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J Pers Soc Psychol. 2014 Jan;106(1):148-68. doi: 10.1037/a0034726. Epub 2013 Nov 25.

Moral character predominates in person perception and evaluation.

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1
Department of Psychology.

Abstract

What sorts of trait information do people most care about when forming impressions of others? Recent research in social cognition suggests that "warmth," broadly construed, should be of prime importance in impression formation. Yet, some prior research suggests that information about others' specifically moral traits--their moral "character"--may be a primary dimension. Although warmth and character have sometimes been conceived of as interchangeable, we argue that they are separable, and that across a wide variety of contexts, character is usually more important than warmth in impression formation. We first showed that moral character and social warmth traits are indeed separable (Studies 1 and 2). Further studies that used correlational and experimental methods showed that, as predicted, in most contexts, moral character information is more important in impression formation than is warmth information (Studies 2-6). Character information was also more important than warmth information with respect to judgments of traits' perceived fundamentalness to identity, their uniquely human quality, their context-independence, and their controllability (Study 2). Finally, Study 7 used an archival method to show that moral character information appears more prominently than warmth information in obituaries, and more strongly determines the impressions people form of the individuals described in those obituaries. We discuss implications for current theories of person perception and social cognition.

PMID:
24274087
DOI:
10.1037/a0034726
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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