Patrice Rusconi, Simona Sacchi, Roberta Capellini, Marco Brambilla, Paolo Cherubini
Published: July 11, 2017
Trait inference in person perception is based on observers’ implicit assumptions about the relations between trait adjectives (e.g., fair) and the either consistent or inconsistent behaviors (e.g., having double standards) that an actor can manifest. This article presents new empirical data and theoretical interpretations on people’ behavioral expectations, that is, people’s perceived trait-behavior relations along the morality (versus competence) dimension. We specifically address the issue of the moderate levels of both traits and behaviors almost neglected by prior research by using a measure of the perceived general frequency of behaviors. A preliminary study identifies a set of competence- and morality-related traits and a subset of traits balanced for valence. Studies 1–2 show that moral target persons are associated with greater behavioral flexibility than immoral ones where abstract categories of behaviors are concerned. For example, participants judge it more likely that a fair person would behave unfairly than an unfair person would behave fairly. Study 3 replicates the results of the first 2 studies using concrete categories of behaviors (e.g., telling the truth/omitting some information). Study 4 shows that the positive asymmetry in morality-related trait-behavior relations holds for both North-American and European (i.e., Italian) individuals. A small-scale meta-analysis confirms the existence of a positive asymmetry in trait-behavior relations along both morality and competence dimensions for moderate levels of both traits and behaviors. We discuss these findings in relation to prior models and results on trait-behavior relations and we advance a motivational explanation based on self-protection.
The article is here.
Note: This research also applies to perceptions in psychotherapy and in family relationships.