Children's implicit personality theories as predictors of their social judgments

Child Dev. 1993 Jun;64(3):863-78.


Social judgment and trait ascription have long been central issues in psychology. Two studies tested the hypothesis that children who believe that personality is a fixed quality (entity theorists) would make more rigid and long-term social judgments than those who believe that personality is malleable (incremental theorists). Fourth and fifth graders (mean age 10.2 years) viewed a slide show of a boy displaying negative behaviors (Study 1--being shy, clumsy, and nervous; Study 2--lying, cheating, and stealing) and then made a series of ratings. Half of the subjects saw a consistent (negative) ending, and half saw an inconsistent (more positive) ending. Even when they viewed positive counterevidence, entity theorists did not differ in their ratings of the focal traits, but incremental theorists did. Entity theorists in Study 2 also predicted significantly less change in the short term and the long term than did incremental theorists. Study 2 further revealed that, when the behaviors were more negative, entity theorists made more generalized and global negative trait evaluations of the target, showed less empathy, and recommended more punishment. Differences in the social judgment processes of entity and incremental theorists are discussed, and implications for issues (such as stereotyping) are explored.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Behavior
  • Child Development*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Judgment*
  • Male
  • Personality Inventory
  • Personality*
  • Stereotyping
  • Students / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires