Linking versus thinking: evidence for the different associative and attributional bases of spontaneous trait transference and spontaneous trait inference

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2005 Dec;89(6):884-98. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.89.6.884.


Informants who describe others' behaviors are perceived as having more of the trait implied by the behavior they describe (the trait transference effect). Associative and attributional explanations for this phenomenon are reviewed and examined in 3 experiments. Findings were inconsistent with attributional interpretations: (a) transference effects persisted with extended coding times, online judgments, and warnings to participants to avoid the effect; (b) negativity effects were absent in transference but occurred with trait inference; and (c) transference effects failed to generalize beyond the particular trait implied by informants' descriptions. Moreover, forcing participants to recall the target of informants' descriptions just prior to trait judgments eliminated the transference effect while enhancing inference effects. These results contradict nonassociative explanations and indicate that different processes underlie spontaneous trait transference and spontaneous trait inference.

MeSH terms

  • Association*
  • Humans
  • Mental Recall
  • Self Concept*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Social Perception*