Using Facebook to Elicit Spontaneous Trait Inferences

Ryan Callozzo, Randy McCarthy, John Skowronski


Even without conscious identity, observers can form impressions of individuals based on observing the individual’s behavior. Research has shown that people can form impressionsof others by viewing environmental information (Gosling, Ko, Mannarelli, & Morris, 2002).However, research has not examined whether non-behavioral, environmentally-cued impressions form spontaneously, as they do from behavior-cued impressions. One such non-behavioral source of information that observers may use to form impressions of others is a Facebook profile. In this study, college students viewed mock Facebook profiles that implied various personality traits. After viewing the profiles, participants completed filler tasks which degraded memory for specific details of the Facebook profiles. Participants then rated personality traits of each person whose photo accompanied each profile. Ratings were substantially increased on those traits implied by the information contained on the mock Facebook profiles. Moreover, because participants were not instructed to form impressions, these impressions emerged spontaneously. This supports the contention that perceivers often make spontaneous trait inferences about others and that such inferences can be prompted by non-behavioral information.

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