Nomina Sunt Omina: On the Inductive Potential of Nouns and Adjectives in Person Perception

Andrea Carnaghi, Anne Maass, Sara Gresta, Mauro Bianchi, Mara Cadinu, Luciano Arcuri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Six studies (N = 491) investigated the inductive potential of nouns versus adjectives in person perception. In the first 5 studies, targets were either described by an adjective (e.g., Mark is homosexual) or by the corresponding noun (e.g., Mark is a homosexual) or by both (Study 3). The authors predicted and found that nouns, more so than adjectives, (a) facilitate descriptor-congruent inferences but inhibit incongruent inferences (Studies 1-3), (b) inhibit alternative classifications (Study 4), and (c) imply essentialism of congruent but not of incongruent preferences (Study 5). This was supported for different group memberships and inclinations (athletics, arts, religion, sexual preference, drinking behavior, etc.), languages (Italian and German), and response formats, suggesting that despite the surface similarity of nouns and adjectives, nouns have a more powerful impact on person perception. Study 6 investigated the inverse relationship, showing that more essentialist beliefs (in terms of a genetic predisposition rather than training) lead speakers to use more nouns and fewer adjectives. Possible extensions of G. R. Semin and K. Fiedler's (1988) linguistic category model and potential applications for language use in intergroup contexts are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)839-859
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2008


  • essentialism
  • language
  • stereotyping

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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