Inference making and linking both require thinking: Spontaneous trait inference and spontaneous trait transference both rely on working memory capacity


a r t i c l e i n f o Past research suggests that spontaneous trait inference (STI) and spontaneous trait transference (STT) may reflect different cognitive processes, the former being inferential and the latter associational. The present research was designed to explore whether either or both of these processes involve thinking that occupies cognitive capacity. Four studies suggest that reductions in available cognitive capacity reduce both STI and STT effects, both on measures of savings in relearning (which reflect the strength of trait associations with a person) and on trait ratings measures (which reflect the strength of trait inferences made about a person). Similar results were obtained using an individual difference measure of cognitive capacity. Although these results suggest that STI and STT are similar, in that both exhibit interference from reductions in cognitive capacity, other results, such as halo effects in trait ratings, support previous assertions that their underlying processes are distinct. What kind of person is James? Is he kind and honest? Is he a faithful spouse? Is he the kind of manager I want to work for? Such trait inferences are crucial to our ability to function in the real world. They allow us to make predictions about others' future behaviors (McCarthy & Skowronski, 2011b) and can guide our everyday interactions with others. One source of trait inferences comes from encounters with descriptions of others' behaviors. For example, after hearing Randy describe how he " aced " his Quantum Mechanics exam, a listener might reasonably infer that Randy is intelligent. Such trait inferences could be prompted by a query about Randy (e.g., " Is he intelligent? "), but can also occur without prompting. Indeed, evidence suggestive of non-prompted spontaneous trait inferences (STI) is now ubiquitous More surprising, perhaps, is evidence that people similarly ascribe traits to those who describe behaviors other than their own. For example, if Randy mentions that Emily aced her Quantum Mechanics exam, Randy will be perceived by a listener to be more intelligent (though less so than Emily herself) than if he does not offer a description. The term spontaneous trait transference (STT) has been applied to this paradoxical tendency (Skowronski, Carlston, Mae, & Crawford, 1998). STT is important both in suggesting the existence of associative forms of impression formation (e.g., Carlston & Mae, 2006), and also in providing a comparison phenomenon for illuminating the seemingly more rational processes underlying STI. …

Extracted Key Phrases

6 Figures and Tables

Cite this paper

@inproceedings{Wells2011InferenceMA, title={Inference making and linking both require thinking: Spontaneous trait inference and spontaneous trait transference both rely on working memory capacity}, author={Brett M. Wells and John J. Skowronski and Matthew T. Crawford and Cory R. Scherer and Donal E. Carlston}, year={2011} }