Causal Thinking In Implicit Personality Theories And Person Representations: An Explanation Of Egocentric Pattern Projection
The self is relied on disproportionately as a source of information about the social world. Recent research has found that people's implicit personality theories-beliefs about how personality traits tend to relate in other people-are rooted in perceptions of the self. That is, people engage in egocentric pattern projection: they expect traits to be patterned in other people in the same way that they are patterned in the self. Five studies test why pattern projection emerges and why it is egocentric. It is proposed that individuals look to their own personalities and develop causal theories to explain why personality traits relate as they do in the self. These causal trait narratives then guide the causal theories that people use to explain why personality traits correlate more generally, their implicit personality theories. This account makes three predictions that the present studies test and support. First, this suggests that implicit personality theories are not represented merely as assumed correlations, but that causal theories (i.e., Trait A influences Trait B) underlie these assumed relationships. Consistent with this possibility, Study 1 found that implicit personality theories are directional-Trait A implies standing on Trait B differently than Trait B implies standing on Trait A. Second, this account predicts that people will be most likely to pattern project a given trait relationship once they have developed a causal theory for the patterning in the self (Study 2). If causal trait narratives do indeed underlie pattern projection, then pattern projection may be egocentric because people have more comprehensive causal trait narratives to explain the self than to explain other people. People indeed reported having more causal theories in their causal trait narratives of themselves than of someone else (Studies 3 and 4), and such causal trait self-narratives were more accessible (Study 4). But when participants were asked to generate a causal trait narrative to explain a novel social target, their implicit personality theories assimilated toward the patternings observed in the target. (Study 5) This confirms a theoretically-derived limit on pattern projection's egocentrism and supports a key causal claim: causal trait narratives influence implicit personality theories.
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