SPONTANEOUS TRAIT TRANSFEENCE

                                                                     JULIE CANTILLON
 


 
 
 

KEY WORDS: SPONTANEOUS TRAIT TRANSFERENCE, COMMUNICATION, TRAIT ACTIVATION, TRAIT ASSOCIATION, TRAIT INFLUENCE
 
 

                                       Abstract
This study examined how spontaneous trait transference could effect communication.  Spontaneous trait transference (STT) occurs if a speaker attributes positive or negative traits to an acquaintance and the listener incorrectly attributes those traits to the speaker.  This study investigated if STT occurs under relatively natural stimuli.  Also investigated was whether or not STT is an uncontrollable phenomenon or if by making people aware of STT can aid them in trying to avoid making misattributions.  Participants included forty-four college students, the average age was 18.  The participants were shown slides of individuals along with audible descriptions in the first trial and then instructed to make correct photograph/ trait associations in the second trial.  The results suggest that spontaneous trait transference does occur under relatively natural stimuli and even by forewarning persons of STT and instructing them to avoid making misattributions, the errors were still made.   Results were also compared to a related study on STT by Skowronski, Carlston, and Crawford (1998) and found to be similar.

                                      Results

    The dependent measures for this study consisted of the subject recalling the correct trait of each photo, the correct description of each photo (self or acquaintance), and the subjectís ability to match the photo to the correct trait and the correct description.  The independent variable in this study was whether or not the subject was informed of the STT effect and instructed to avoid making misattributions.
    The data from this study was analyzed with an independent samples t-test.
    The participants that were familiar with STT recalled a greater number of traits (significant at the .07 level) (M=.71, SD=.20) than the group unfamiliar with STT (M=.57,SD=.25) (see Figure 1 for results).  The amount of correct descriptions was comparable between the group unfamiliar with STT (M=.51, SD=.20) and the group familiar with STT (M=.48, SD=.23).  The amount of correct traits paired with correct descriptions varied marginally between the group unfamiliar with STT (M=.42, SD=.20) and the group familiar with STT (M=.35, SD=.22).
    The independent samples t-test showed that the group unfamiliar with STT had greater difficulty in trait recall than the group made familiar with STT, t(42)=-1.97, p<.05.  A second independent samples t-test revealed only a marginal difference in the amount of correct descriptions between the 2 groups, t(42)=.582, p<.05.  The final independent samples t-test showed that there was also only a marginal difference in the amount of correct traits paired with correct descriptions between the 2 groups t=1.071, p<.05
     The results revealed that the group familiar with STT was able to more easily recall traits than the group unfamiliar with STT. However,  they had greater difficulty than the group unfamiliar with STT in recalling correct descriptions and correct traits paired with correct descriptions.  The hypothesis proposed that there would be no difference between the 2 groups on the 3 dependent variables, accordingly, the hypothesis was accepted at the .05 level for all variables but not at the .07 level for trait recall.
 

Discussion
This study has provided evidence that spontaneous trait transference occurs even under more natural circumstances than observed in Skowronski et. al, (1998).  Furthermore, it was reinforced that the effects of STT are uncontrollable and even if forewarned of the nature of STT, one can not avoid itsí repercussions.
Moreover, because spontaneous trait transference still occurred even under more real-life circumstances, it more than likely engaged the participants in many of the  cognitive processes that real-life situations generate.  Therefore, it can be inferred that STT is a persistent associational phenomenon that affects impressions of people who talk about othersí behavior.
It would be impetuous to conclude, however, that spontaneous trait transference is present in every aspect of life.  It does not seem likely that people are universally identified as having the traits they describe in others, also future research may discover other extenuating factors.  For example, STT may be less likely to occur in the context of acquaintances, friends, or family members because the communicator is already known to the perceiver, consequently already viewed as possessing certain traits.   Conversely, STT may reinforce expectancies unjustly attributed to a person already known.  The effects of prior knowledge of the communicator have not yet been examined and future research may yield additional findings.
Nevertheless, the current study has shown additional support that spontaneous trait transference is a robust occurrence that can occur under relatively natural stimuli.  This may suggest that gossip and other forms of social communication may have surprising and inadvertent consequences for the communicator.  This may also indicate that communicators who want to be perceived in a certain way should simply describe the traits that they would like to be associated with.  Thus, it adds new meaning to the saying, "Iím rubber, youíre glue what you say bounces off me and sticks to you."