The causality implicit in traits

Laura M. Kressel, James S. Uleman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Are personality trait concepts merely descriptive of behaviors or do they describe causes? Social psychologists have differing views. Thus we looked at lexical decision response times (RTs) in a list context paradigm, which presents prime-target pairs embedded in lists of different contexts. In lists of associated pairs, traits did not affect RTs to related behaviors. But in lists of causally related pairs, traits primed RTs to behavioral words. Causality was never mentioned, and RTs were short enough to suggest automatic processing. This is consistent with other research on priming thematic relations. It also indicates that traits are implicit causes rather than mere descriptions of behavior, at least among Western participants. This challenges some current formulations in the social psychology of impression formation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)51-54
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
StatePublished - Mar 1 2015


  • Attribution
  • Automatic
  • Causality
  • Lexical decision
  • Priming
  • Trait

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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