Patrice Rusconi Simona Sacchi Marco Brambilla

At the core of impression formation: Asymmetries in trait-behavior relations

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The social cognitive literature has often investigated the use of trait adjectives (e.g., honest) in impression formation and when making inferences about an individual’s personality starting from some cues such as a behavior (e.g., returning a lost wallet). Here, we considered individuals’ assumptions about the likelihood of behaviors associated with possessing a morality- vs. competence-related trait. In particular, we measured trait-behavior relations by focusing on the perceived likelihood of trait-inconsistent behaviors at moderate vs. extreme levels of both traits and behaviors for the first time within a single experimental design. In line with the literature, we found that participants judged it more likely that an actor with a moderate (rather than extreme) trait would behave inconsistently, independently of content dimension (morality vs. competence), valence, and behavior extremity. In addition, participants judged it more likely that an actor would engage in moderately vs. extremely trait-inconsistent behaviors, although, for both morality and competence, they expected extreme, as opposed to moderate, trait-inconsistent behaviors when the actor was described with a negative, rather than positive, trait. We confirmed the well-known negative asymmetry in extreme trait-behavior relations for morality but not the positivity effect in extreme trait-behavior relations for competence. We also confirmed the positivity effect in morality for moderate trait-behavior relations. We discuss these results by taking into account the different measures used to gauge how individuals perceive trait-behavior relations.


  • trait-behavior relations
  • morality
  • competence
  • impression formation
  • trait attribution
  • asymmetries


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