Spontaneous Goal Inferences are often Inferred Faster than Spontaneous Trait Inferences

Frank Van Overwalle, Marijke Van Duynslaeger, Daphne Coomans, Bert Timmermans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


We present four experiments in which participants were exposed to texts depicting behaviors that afforded inferences about actors' traits and goals. Results from a false recognition task with varying response deadlines revealed heightened activation of goal inferences already within a 350 ms response deadline. In contrast, trait inferences were made only when there was no response deadline, and when the behavior also implied a goal. These results indicate that spontaneous inferences on goals are often encoded more strongly in memory and are reactivated much more quickly in comparison with spontaneous trait inferences. Moreover, spontaneous trait inferences are often facilitated when an inference is first made on the goal of the behavior. These findings are discussed in light of recent developmental and neuroscientific evidence on social inferences, and current theories on impression formation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-18
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • Spontaneous inferences
  • multiple inferences
  • goals
  • traits


Dive into the research topics of 'Spontaneous Goal Inferences are often Inferred Faster than Spontaneous Trait Inferences'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this