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Sunday, July 24, 2022

The Overblown Implications Effect

Moon, A., Gan, M., & Critcher, C. R. (2020). 
Journal of personality and social psychology,
118(4), 720–742.


People frequently engage in behaviors that put their competencies on display. However, do such actors understand how others view them in light of these performances? Eight studies support an overblown implications effect (OIE): Actors overestimate how much observers think an actor's one-off success or failure offers clear insight about a relevant competency (Study 1). Furthermore, actors overblow performances' implications even in prospect, before there are experienced successes or failures on which to ruminate (Studies 2 and 3). To explain the OIE, we introduce the construct of working trait definitions-accessible beliefs about what specific skills define a general trait or competency. When actors try to adopt observers' perspective, the narrow performance domain seems disproportionately important in defining the general trait (Study 4). By manipulating actors' working trait definitions to include other (unobserved) trait-relevant behaviors, we eliminated the OIE (Study 5). The final 3 studies (Studies 6a-6c) more precisely localized the error. Although actors and observers agreed on what a single success or failure (e.g., the quality of a single batch of cookies) could reveal about actors' narrow competence (e.g., skill at baking cookies), actors erred in thinking observers would feel this performance would reveal a considerable amount about the more general skill (e.g., cooking ability) and related specific competencies (e.g., skill at making omelets). Discussion centers on how the present theoretical account differs from previous explanations why metaperceptions err and identifies important open questions for future research.

From the General Discussion

People care how others view them. However, without direct access to others’ perceptions, understanding how we are perceived entails guesswork. Across eight studies, we provided evidence for an overblown implications effect. Actors see their own performance as having more evaluative impact on observers than it actually does. By introducing the construct of working trait definitions, we were able to localize this error to a difference in how metaperceivers and observers were defining the broader competencies (partially) on display.



As people navigate through their personal and professional lives, they aim not merely to passively estimate but also to actively manage others’ impressions (e.g., Jones & Pittman, 1982; Leary & Kowalski, 1990; Schlenker & Weigold, 1992). Thus, metaperceptions are important barometers of whether people (think they) are doing so effectively. When people’s metaperceptions are inaccurate, they may make suboptimal decisions about how best to invest in further impression management. Those who make a single inane comment during a work meeting may go to unnecessary lengths to redeem themselves in the eyes of their colleagues, and those who offer a single stroke of genius may be mistaken about how much they can rest on these (thin) laurels (see Anderson, Ames, & Gosling, 2008; Elfenbein, Eisenkraft, & Ding, 2009). We may do well to keep in mind that although our specific competencies are sometimes on full display, our broader abilities almost never are.