When are social judgments made? Evidence for the spontaneousness of trait inferences

Laraine Winter, James S. Uleman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Adapted E. Tulving and D. M. Thomson's (see record 1974-10409-001) encoding specificity paradigm for 2 recall experiments with 153 undergraduates to investigate whether Ss would make trait inferences without intentions or instructions at the encoding stage of processing behavioral information. Under memory instructions only, Ss read sentences describing people performing actions that implied traits. Later, Ss recalled each sentence under 1 of 3 cuing conditions: a dispositional cue (e.g., generous); a strong, nondispositional semantic associate to an important sentence word; or no cue. Results show that recall was best when cued by the disposition words. Ss were unaware of having made trait inferences. Interpreted in terms of encoding specificity, findings indicate that Ss unintentionally made trait inferences at encoding. It is suggested that attributions are made spontaneously, as part of the routine comprehension of social events. (39 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)237-252
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1984


  • behavior descriptions &
  • dispositional cues, recall of sentences, college students, implications for spontaneous attribution of personality traits

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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