Implicit personality theory in social psychology

Implicit personality theory in social psychology

In this article, we will be talking about the implicit personality theory. We will talk about the factors that influence the way we perceive people, situations and groups. But also about the ramifications of the implicit personality theory.

Implicit personality theory: what does it mean?

Implicit personality theory refers to the biases a person can make when forming impressions of other people they don’t know based on a limited amount of information.

Certain factors influence how first impressions about others are generated, such as the context, the prejudices that the individual has, in addition to the mood or the rumours that have spread about the prejudiced person.

The first definition of the implicit personality theory was given by Bruner and Tagiuri in 1954, defining it as the knowledge that one has about a person and how such knowledge is used to make inferences about his personality

However, among the first to approach this concept is Solomon Ach, who, in the mid-1940s, researched to specify what factors influenced the formation of these first impressions.

Implicit personality theory in social psychology

Implicit personality theory – general ideas

Who has never made a wrong first impression of someone? Everyone, to a greater or lesser extent, judges others based on what they see first.

It is usual that, if you see a beautiful person, it is assumed that they are also charismatic and warm, or if you see a person wearing glasses it is assumed that they will be intelligent and responsible.

Implicit personality theories relate to how inferences are made about other people based on how little is known about them. They are widely applied on a day-to-day basis and have profound repercussions at the social level.

Let’s see in more detail its definition, what factors influence the formation of first impressions and what are the implications in society.

There have been two theories that have tried to explain in more depth how and why people, when we see another individual with certain characteristics and traits, we generate inferences about their personality, assuming their behaviour and way of being.

People with implicit personality can get help in changing the way they are or the way they think by using the ABC theory of personality .

The consistency theory

This theory refers to how a new impression generated relates to what was already known about the person being judged.

If positive traits have been seen in the person being judged, likely, the rest of their traits are also assumed to be desirable. On the other hand, if what was observed was negative, it will be assumed that the person will have mostly undesirable characteristics.

The attribution theory

This theory describes how people see that the traits assumed in other individuals remain stable over time. That is to say, it is seen as if the characteristics attributed to another person remained constant throughout the life of the other individual.

Within this theory there are two positions:

On the one hand, entity theory, which maintains that personality traits are stable over time and situations and that assumptions can be made of the person’s behaviour in general terms based on a small repertoire of their behaviours.

On the other side is the incremental theory, which maintains that the traits are somewhat more dynamic, variable over time.

Implicit personality theory in social psychology

Factors influencing implicit personality theory

These are the elements that come into play in the implicit theories of personality.

Central features vs. peripheral features

When observing a person for the first time or receiving prior information about him, the features seen are not equally taken into account. Some features stand out above others. Within the research carried out by Asch himself, this idea was fundamental.

The central features are those that exert a greater role and strength in the formation of the impression, while the peripheral ones are those that are not attributed as much importance, having less weight in the formation of the impression.

Asch was able to observe this through his research. In one of his studies, he asked some participants to form an impression of a person described as ‘intelligent, skilful, hard-working, warm, energetic, practical and cautious’, while others asked them to make it of a person described as ‘intelligent, skilful, hard-working, cold, energetic, practical and cautious.’

He saw that despite changing only one trait, the impressions that the participants formed differed significantly. Furthermore, when asked to answer what traits they found most remarkable, ‘warm’ and ‘cold’ stood out above the rest.

Also, he was able to observe that when a central trait seen as negative was placed, as in the case of ‘cold’, its sign was imposed, although the rest of the peripheral traits were positive.

The effect of the observer’s features

People self-attribute traits. The greater importance we attach to a certain trait about ourselves, the more likely we are to see it in others. Of course, the trait in question will vary depending on the person and the context plays an important role.

For example, if you consider yourself very extraverted, when you find other extraverted people, the impression that will be generated from them will tend to be more positive. Also, if one sees himself as more reserved, when meeting people who are also not very sociable, he will see them as more desirable.

One of the explanations behind this phenomenon would be the perception of seeing people with characteristics similar to their own as members of the in-group, just as it happens when you see a person of the same ethnicity, culture or religion.

When considering the parts of the same group as a personality characteristic or trait, the first impression tends to be skewed in positive terms.

Implicit personality theory in social psychology

Filling the gaps

Sometimes, and as simple as it may seem, people, when we receive little information about others, we proceed to ‘fill in the gaps’ about their personality, attributing features consistent with what has already been seen.

The primacy effect

Greater weight is given to the information that has been received first compared to that which has come later. The first observed features will define the direction in which the impression is made, making them be analyzed based on what has already been assumed first.

The mood

Humour can influence how the first impression is generated.

Being in a good mood encourages the other person to be analyzed more comprehensively and holistically, taking into account all their traits or trying to have the maximum information about them.

On the other hand, if you are not having a good day, it is more common to choose a strategy that focuses attention on details and specific features.

Furthermore, there is some consistency with the mood and the impression that has been made. If you are in a bad mood, your first impression of another person is more likely to be negative.

Implicit personality theory in social psychology

Ramifications of the implicit personality theory

Implicit personality theory has many consequences at the social level, especially when others are misjudged. 

Also, it has been suggested that this type of way of generating impressions influences memory when it comes to remembering others, especially remembering the traits and behaviours seen in the person that is consistent with how the first impression was generated.

Implicit personality theory has been associated with the degree to which a particular employee action by supervisors is evaluated. For example, if a worker presents a remarkable trait that is positive for the organization, his boss assumes that he may have other traits that are also positive and the first impression is generated based on it.

All this can be related to two phenomena.

First, we have the halo effect, which is the tendency to conclude that a person’s traits are all positive if they show a small number of them, or, conversely, if they only show a few negatives, the rest is assumed they will also be. This fact could be simplified by categorizing people as undoubtedly good or undoubtedly bad based on a few behaviours seen.

Second, physical attractiveness often influences the way an impression is made. If a person is beautiful, it is usually assumed that they will have socially desirable characteristics, while if a person is not, rather, graceful, it will be assumed that they have negative characteristics. This idea is popularly known, for this reason, there is the saying “do not judge a book by its cover.

Implicit personality theory in social psychology

FAQ about the Implicit personality theory

What is the implicit personality theory in psychology?

The implicit personality theory in social psychology refers to the biases a person can make when forming impressions of other people they don’t know based on a limited amount of information.

What are the 4 theories of personality?

The 4 major theories of personality are the psychoanalytic, trait, humanistic and social cognition approaches.

What is an implicit belief?

An implicit belief is correlating a present moment to one’s previous experience which relates to the representation in cognition.

What is an example of implicit attitude?

An example of implicit attitude is if you consider yourself extraverted when you find other extraverted people, the impression that will be generated from them will tend to be more positive. Also, if one sees himself as more reserved, when meeting people who are also not very sociable, he will see them as more desirable.

Conclusions 

In this article, we talked about the implicit personality theory. We discussed the factors that influence the way we perceive people, situations and groups. But also about the ramifications of the implicit personality theory.

Implicit personality theories relate to how inferences are made about other people based on how little is known about them. They are widely applied on a day-to-day basis and have profound repercussions at the social level.

One of the explanations behind this phenomenon would be the perception of seeing people with characteristics similar to their own as members of the in-group, just as it happens when you see a person of the same ethnicity, culture or religion.

When considering the parts of the same group as a personality characteristic or trait, the first impression tends to be skewed in positive terms.

If you have any questions or comments on the content, please let us know!

Further Reading

It’s not what a leader does, it’s what you make of it: Implicit Personality Theories, Leadership Prototypes, and Cultural Differences in Trait Inferences between Germany and Great Britain, by Regina Herzfeld 

Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships, by Eric Berne

The Unconscious: Theory, Research, and Clinical Implications (Psychoanalysis and Psychological Science), by Joel Weinberger

Personality 101 (Psych 101), by Gorkan Ahmetoglu PhD

Social Psychology (Hodder Arnold Publication), by Richard Gross 

Handbook of Implicit Social Cognition: Measurement, Theory, and Applications, by Bertram Gawronski 

Bibliographic references

Bacova, V. (1998). Implicit personal theories on specific domains of the social world. Studia Psychologica, 40, 255-260.

Chiu, C. Y., Dweck, C. S., Tong, J. Y. Y. & Fu, J. H. Y. (1997). Implicit theories and conceptions of morality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 923-940.

Chiu, C. Y., Hong, Y. Y. & Dweck, C. S. (1997). Lay dispositionism and implicit theories of personality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 19-30.

Dweck, C. S., Chiu, C. Y. & Hong, Y. Y. (1995). Implicit theories. Elaboration and extension of the model. Psychological Inquiry, 6, 322-333.

Dweck, C. S., Hong, Y. Y. & Chiu, C. Y. (1993). Implicit theories. Individual differences in the likelihood and meaning of dispositional inference. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 19, 644-656.

Heider, F. (1958). The psychology of interpersonal relations. New York: Wiley

Hollander, J. A. & Howard, J. A. (2000). Social psychological theories on social inequalities. Social Psychology Quarterly, 63, 338-351.

Implicit personality theory in social psychology

Nadejda Romanciuc

Nadejda Romanciuc holds a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and a diploma in Addiction studies. She is part of the Romanian Association of Integrative Psychotherapy as a psychotherapist under supervision. She's practicing online counselling for over two years and is a strong advocate for mental health.