Researchers have noted the resemblance across core models of social cognition, in which trait inferences centre on others’ intentions and abilities (for example, warmth, competence). Current views posit that this common ‘trait space’ originates from the adaptive utility of the dimensions, predicting a relatively fixed and universal architecture. In contrast, we hypothesize that perceivers learn conceptual knowledge of how traits correlate, which shapes trait inferences similarly across domains (for example, faces, person knowledge, stereotypes), from which a common trait space emerges. Here we show substantial overlap between the structures of perceivers’ conceptual and social perceptual trait spaces, across perceptual domains (studies 1–4) and that conceptual associations directly shape trait space (study 5). Furthermore, we find evidence that conceptual trait space is learned from social perception and actual personality structure (studies 6 and 7). Our findings suggest conceptual trait associations serve as a cornerstone in social perception, providing broad implications for the study of social behaviour.
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Experiment materials information and all experiment de-identified data are publicly available at https://osf.io/2uzsx/. The materials used in this study are widely available.
Data analysis script notebooks are publicly available at https://osf.io/2uzsx/.
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We thank M. B. Meshar, J. A. Chwe, B. Barnett, H. Woo and C. Cogley for assistance in materials development and data collection. This work was supported in part by research grants NIH-F31-MH114505 (R.M.S.) and NSF-BCS-1654731 (J.B.F.). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Stolier, R.M., Hehman, E. & Freeman, J.B. Trait knowledge forms a common structure across social cognition. Nat Hum Behav (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-019-0800-6