Description of Reseacrch Interests In the Area of Social Judgment

Social judgments are fascinating to me. Especially interesting is the notion that two people can use the same information about a person and come to very different conclusions about that person. Bill Clinton is a good example of this - there are some folks who think that Clinton is the greatest American president since George Washington, and others who see Clinton as a soulless, untrustworthy manipulator. How can two people use exactly the same data base come to such opposing conclusions about Bill?

My fascination with this area started pretty early on. I'm a very introverted guy - and when I was a kid I was very much the silent type who avoided social contact. My reticence sometimes led people to unusual inferences about me (the film "Being There" is an excellent illustration of this phenomenon). Two examples serve to illustrate the point.

Story 1: I was once publicly accused of being "the ringleader" of the troublemakers in my grade school class by a priest who was visiting our class. He made the accusation simply because I failed to answer one of his questions. In truth, I was daydreaming and had absolutely no idea of what his question was (think of Calvin's flights of fancy from the old [and dearly missed] Calvin and Hobbes comic strip).

Story 2: When I was young, I failed to seek out the company of the opposite sex. In fact, my father tried to bribe me to take a particular girl to the senior prom (the bribe was more attractive than the girl). Given such behavior, my father came to the conclusion that I was gay (which, I'm sure, is a surprise to my wife). In this case, my father rather misinterpreted my reticence, my dislike of social situations and my dislike of formal dress, don't you think?

Needless to say, when I got to college and actually found out that people studied this stuff (e.g., how we make attributions about the personalities of others) I was hooked.

My most recent work in the area has focused on two issues. The first of these is the detection of spontaneous trait inferences. Two key questions are: (1) when do we make inferences about the personality traits that others possess and (2) how can we detect those inferences without asking people to directly report them? The second issue that I have pursued concerns why there are negativity biases (and sometimes positivity biases) in trait judgments. I have argued (and tried to show) that these effects are caused by perceptions of the diagnosticity of information. Many of my colleagues believe that these effects are caused by motivational or emotional mechanisms. It has been a lovely debate, and it continues.

Carlston, D.E., & Skowronski, J.J. (2005) Linking versus thinking: Evidence for the different associative and attributional bases of spontaneous trait transference and spontaneous trait inference. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89, 884-898.


Skowronski, J.J. (2002). Honesty and intelligence judgments of individuals and groups: The effects of entitity-related behavior diagnosticity and implicit theories. Social Cognition, 20, 136-169.


Mae, L., Carlston, D.E., & Skowronski, J.J. (1999). Spontaneous trait transference to familiar communicators: Is a little knowledge a dangerous thing? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 233-246.


Skowronski, J.J., Carlston, D.E., Mae, L., & Crawford, M.T. (1998). Spontaneous trait transference: Communicators take on the qualities they describe in others. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 837-848.


Skowronski, J.J., & Shook, J. (1997). Facilitation in repeated trait judgments: Implications for the structure of trait concepts. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 33, 21-46.