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Swiss Journal of Psychology 59 (1), 2000, 1633

Affordances in social judgment: Experimental proof of why it is a mistake to ignore how others behave towards a target and look solely at how the target behaves
Jean-Lon Beauvois1 and Nicole Dubois2
1 Universit

de Nice Sophia-Antipolis 2 Universit de Nancy-2

In this article, we propose a comprehensive conception of what personality traits are and what they mean in lay personology. Our conception is a pragmatic one that relies on the ecological concept of affordance and the theory of dual knowledge. It is not based on the same knowledge-building process as other pragmatic conceptions in that it distinguishes evaluative knowledge, produced by the generalization of affordances, from descriptive knowledge, deemed to be of limited importance in trait usage. It posits that an essential component of the meaning of traits is how others act towards the persons who possess these traits. We present a compilation of ten experimental studies in various areas of interest (statistical studies of trait/behavior associations, semantic decision-making, person memory, judgments at zero acquaintance) to prove the importance of the evaluative component composed of others behaviors (OBs). These experiments show that the evaluative component 1. includes a repertoire of behaviors that is just as reliable for encoding traits as the repertoire of behaviors ascribed to the target; 2. can be just as accessible as the descriptive component for highly evaluative traits; 3. is very powerful in structuring mental representations of persons; 4. is more highly activated in social contexts, especially in workevaluation situations, and 5. is more discriminative than the descriptive component in immediate appraisals of persons. Key words: Social judgment, trait, affordance, evaluative knowledge, behavior of others towards a target (OB)

In this article, we present a fairly comprehensive conception of what personality traits are in lay personology. Our conception is basically pragmatic, but because it relies on the ecological concept of affordances and on our own theory of dual knowledge (evaluative knowledge/descriptive
Swiss J Psychol 59 (1), 2000, Verlag Hans Huber, Bern

knowledge), it differs fundamentally from most pragmatic conceptions: its underlying assumption regarding the knowledge-building process is distinct. Briefly, we contend that one of the key components of traits in lay personology consists of the behaviors others exhibit towards

J.-L. Beauvois, N. Dubois: Affordances in social judgment


the individuals the traits describe. Below we present a series of ten experiments that prove this point empirically.

Affordances in evaluative knowledge

From man as a scientist to man as a motivated tactician
During the fifties and sixties, the proponents of the axiom Man is a scientist thought that peoples judgments of targets were valid (or accurate) to the extent that they were based on important properties of the targets, and as such, that they were free of idiosyncrasies. In the area of social judgment (see for example Anderson, 1981; Srull & Wyer, 1989), this view amounts to considering that judgments are mainly based on information processing, through which some of the intrinsic and presumably unchanging properties of the person or group being judged are inferred, and that such processing supplies knowledge about the judged object which, although inferred, is scientific and descriptive and, by that token, accurate. Viewed from this angle, evaluations consisting of attributing value or worth to the object of a judgment do not take place until after the fact, being based on this newly-acquired descriptive knowledge of the object. This may happen via the activation of affects or connotations elicited by the targets inferred properties, or through calculations about the ramifications those properties might have with respect to one or more of the perceivers goals. One implication of this conception is that if a target receives different evaluations, it is certainly not because of the knowledge the perceivers have of that target. It can only be due to individual evaluation differences which we all know exist or to the fact that the judgments were not made in the same context and therefore had different evaluative implications. This conception implies the following steps: First, processing the target information. Then, knowing the targets properties (unmotivated). Last, determining the targets value. During the seventies and eighties, this conception of social judgment was invalidated many times, because the biases, errors, illusions, and distortions brought to the theoretical forefront were described mainly as related to the processing of descriptive (hence accurate) information about the targets. They were assumed to be due to the problems people have grasping the intrinsic properties of objects, and as such, were regarded as the outcome of knowledge acquired prior to any kind of evaluation process. It is probably because the errors or distortions were thought to be rooted in the knowledge-building process itself that the bias era led to a kind of sullenness in social psychol-

ogists, so apparent in metaphors such as cognitive miser and faulty computer (Beauvois & Deschamps, 1990). In the early eighties, however, some researchers wanted to combat this grim trend, not by trying to prove that there were no grounds for saying that these errors were really errors, as Funder (1987) did, but by proposing a different understanding of accuracy and of the judgment process. Many of these authors took what might be called a pragmatic point of view. They insisted on the need to reintroduce both the social context and the perceivers goals into the study of judgment. Swann (1984), for example, was opposed to social psychologists quest for global accuracy resulting in generalizable judgments which resemble scientific statements (this person is usually reliable), instead of a more circumscribed accuracy (P. 461) which is context-dependent (in this context and given my expectations, I can state that this person is reliable). For Swann, people are more accurate with the latter criterion than with the former. While these authors (and their current followers; see Dardenne, 1997) proposed a new understanding of what an accurate judgment is because for them, accuracy is not based on some permanent knowledge of the object they did not deny that prior knowledge of some of the targets real properties is needed for an evaluation to take place. In other words, they still believe that information processing leading to descriptive knowledge via inferences is a prerequisite of evaluation. Simply, they assume that this processing step is guided by the perceivers goals in the context in which he/she is interacting with the target. In sum, they see the perceivers goals as entering into play upstream, where their impact would be to guide the knowledge-building process. This gives us the following steps: First, setting the goals. Next, processing the target information (goal-oriented). Then, knowing some of the targets properties (motivated). Last, determining the targets circumscribed value. These steps describe the knowing-others process implemented by motivated tacticians (Fiske & Taylor, 1991). It is clear here that while the knowledge is indeed feeding the action, as assumed in any pragmatic view, it is still specific to the Knowing Subject.1

Knowledge built by the Acting Subject: affordances

A year before Swann proposed the idea of pragmatic accuracy, McArthur & Baron (1983) attempted to introduce Gibsons (1979) ecological theory of perception into social judgment research. This led social judgment specialists not only to modify their accuracy criteria, but also to
1 Knowing vs. Acting. Swiss J Psychol 59 (1), 2000, Verlag Hans Huber, Bern


J.-L. Beauvois, N. Dubois: Affordances in social judgment

reexamine the idea of motivated-vs-unmotivated control of information intake. It led them to reassess the judgment activity and the role of knowledge. Gibson posited 1. that under ordinary (ecological) judgment conditions, knowing and evaluating are indissociable, and 2. that direct information intake can override the inference process (information is acquired rather than being processed). The concept of affordance covers the essential aspects of this theory. It first emerged in the work of gestalt theorists, who spoke, following Lewin (1926), of the demand character of objects: To primitive man each thing says what it is and what he ought to do with it: a fruit says Eat me; water says, Drink me; thunder says Fear me, and woman says, Love me (Koffka, 1935, p. 7, partially quoted by Gibson, 1979, p. 137). The term affordance thus denotes the direct perception of the utility of an object, via the perception of its features as they are seen by a given person acting in a given environment. For example, such and such a person who wants to go up to a higher floor will see the useful property climb-up-ability of a certain staircase, or such and such a person who has to get to the other side of a given road will see the crossability of a given piece of pavement. These examples bring out two essential aspects of the concept of affordance, namely, attunement, which is specific to the individual who is perceiving (see McArthur & Baron, 1983), and organization, just as specific to the properties of the object. These properties are what make the object useful to that person, and they are grasped directly. This conception is based on a radical hypothesis since it implies that the values and meanings of things in the environment can be directly perceived (Gibson, 1979, p. 127). In a single act of perception, information intake affords both the knowledge and the value (or utility) of the object for a specific future action. The concept of affordance thus leads us to revise the steps in the knowledge-building process: First, orienting ones action. Next, apprehending the targets useful properties. Then, knowing the target THROUGH evaluation. In matters of social judgment and social judgment accuracy, Gibsons ecological approach along with that based on the work of another instigator of ecological psychology, Egon Brunswik has been the main driving force in research on knowledge of others at zero acquaintance, those involved in such research apparently attempting to stay closer to the Gibsonian prototypes (for a review, see Zebrowitz & Collins, 1997). The conception of person knowledge we propose here is largely based on the concept of affordance, which it generalizes and incorporates into a more comprehensive understanding of knowledge which we call the dualknowledge theory (evaluative/descriptive). Although we can ignore the purely metatheoretical and even ideologiSwiss J Psychol 59 (1), 2000, Verlag Hans Huber, Bern

cal criticisms directed at Gibsons concepts, it is worthwhile here, before we present our conception, to remind the reader of the most important criticism ever aimed at pragmatism in general, and at the concept of affordance in particular, especially since as we shall see the replies to this criticism will help us grasp the implications of our conception.

A criticism by a proponent of the conception of man as a scientist

Funder (1995) criticizes the pragmatic views. Briefly, his primary objection is that they lack concern for the person being judged, concentrating solely on the judges: Accuracy is not viewed as dependent on any properties that the target of judgment actually has. Nearly all the focus is on the judge, not the judged (p. 656). This criticism seems all the more legitimate to the extent that in the Gibsonian approach, all affordances are based on a kind of perceiver-specific attunement to their reception, which is dependent upon the perceivers current objectives. There are two possible assertions in Funders criticism: 1. a pragmatic criterion does not capture the properties of the target; 2. what the pragmatic criterion captures about the target is not general enough, in that it adds no information about the judged person outside of the specific context in which the judgment is taking place. Gibsonians can come up with a better answer to the first assertion than to the second. The first assertion is obviously false. As Zebrowitz & Collins (1997) stressed, an affordance is not in the eyes of the beholder: it truly captures the properties of the object. But these properties are perceived in terms of the utility they have for the judge. The climb-up-ability of a given staircase is not the same for an 8-year-old child as it is for an adult. But in both cases, climb-up-ability is one of the real properties of the staircase, even if those properties are an integral part of a straightforward evaluative or utilitarian judgment. In the same way, it is indeed in a persons attitudes and behaviors, or even in his/her appearance, that we can see whether we are dealing with someone who can be trusted in the matter at hand. Gibsonians will have more trouble with the second assertion. The climb-up-ability of a staircase is only meaningful and real for a person preparing for this particular action in this particular context, i.e., the person really needs to go up the stairs. In this respect, Funder is right: an affordance (climb-up-ability, cross-ability, sexual availability, dominance, etc.) is always a set of properties related to the utility the object has for one or more judges in a given situation. Utility here is not a general and realistic property of the object (Beauvois, 1976, 1984). As such, an affordance cannot be seen as a property of the ob-

J.-L. Beauvois, N. Dubois: Affordances in social judgment


ject in the way that scientists define the general, realistic, descriptive attributes of objects (e.g., volume, weight, orientation). From this angle, even when an affordance gives rise to a valid statement, capable of being observed by individuals in the social environment (i.e., of obtaining a judgment consensus) we are still not speaking of the same kind of accuracy as we are in saying, for example, that a stick is 75 cm long. This is because an affordance is of a different nature than a descriptive statement about an object. It is a property of the perceiver/object pair. By this token, it is not a piece of general, realistic information about an object, the perceiver/object pair being purely arbitrary relative to the object. We shall return to this point in the discussion. Whatever the case may be, we can easily see why the Gibsonian approach cannot satisfy the proponents of the idea that social judgments are based on descriptive knowledge (general and realistic) of social objects. We are not questioning the potential existence of such knowledge. We simply want to highlight the fact that this is not the kind of knowledge that takes effect in social judgments.

persons. This is what most social cognition theorists believe. We do not challenge the existence of general descriptive knowledge of objects. We shall see, however, that it seems to have little impact on social judgments.

General pragmatic knowledge is possible: the behaviors of others towards the target (OB)
The above considerations indeed suggest that social observers have only two routes for making their social judgments and evaluations, each one giving rise to a different approach. As Knowing Subjects, social observers will want to grasp what a target is, irrespective of the goals of their own actions, so they will strive to decode the targets behaviors in terms of traits. Then they may or may not evaluate. As Acting Subjects, social observers have only pragmatic ambitions, and in this case they will judge a target solely according to what they want to do with that target, and they will make accurate judgments only in the context of their relationship with him/her. The former approach, the traditional one, has always had (and still has) its supporters, insofar as it seems to be quite difficult for social psychologists to admit that people can get along without knowing the general properties of objects. However, a growing number of researchers are defending the latter approach, the pragmatic one (Dardenne, 1997), even if, as stressed above, it is very difficult for them to completely free themselves from the traditional view despite their ambivalence about it. The Gibsonian approach should enable us to get beyond this state of affairs in at least two ways. Firstly, it alleviates the need for the information processing idea and the inference-making premise. Secondly, it is grounded in another conception of knowledge, one that intrinsically implies a utilitarian and thus evaluative focus. But it is no better than any of the other pragmatic approaches at achieving an essential goal set by all theorists of social cognition apart from Gibson namely, to come up with a credible conception of social-object knowledge in which that knowledge is not only useful, granted, but also general and somewhat realistic. When people talk about others, they in fact call upon general knowledge they assume is realistic. In short, what we can legitimately hope for is a theory that, while still being pragmatic, does not force us to throw out the idea of general object knowledge. Gibsons approach can help us, but it does not suffice. In the present article, we are going to combine the Gibsonian approach with the dual-knowledge theory (descriptive knowledge/evaluative knowledge: Beauvois, 1990; Beauvois & Dubois, 1992, 1993) and show that this combination offers us a conception of target object knowledge that is useful, general, and realistic: useful insofar as
Swiss J Psychol 59 (1), 2000, Verlag Hans Huber, Bern

Descriptive person knowledge is possible: the targets behaviors (TB)

Personality traits (extroverted, condescending, aggressive, etc.) are often assumed to be intrinsic properties of the persons the Knowing Subject is judging, even if trait words can have other functions, like serving as a basis for categorizing behaviors (Bassili, 1989). Because traits cannot be seen directly, their apprehension depends on their visible manifestations. A long-standing tradition in social cognition research views target behaviors (and target productions or actions) as visible manifestations of traits. This implies that traits are defined by what they mean at the behavioral level, both in real-life situations and in the mind (Beauvois & Dubois, 1992; Buss & Craik, 1983; Mischel, 1973; Riemann & Angleitner, 1993; Wojciszke & Pienkowski, 1991; Wojciszke, Pienkowski, Maroszek, Brycz & Ratajczac, 1993; etc). Accordingly, many models of social cognition (and in particular, of person memory: Srull & Wyer, 1989) stipulate that knowing about a target means being able to encode his/her behaviors in terms of traits. People are barely if at all sensitive to behavioral specificity (Mischel, 1968) or to the situational determinants of the way people act. It follows that the encoding of traits in terms of the targets behaviors (Target Behaviors: TB) is based on an implicit causality of an internal nature (Mollaret, 1998). It also follows that TB-based trait encoding allows people to devise a general and unchanging concept of the persons in their environment, and that this concept encompasses properties assumed to be intrinsic to those


J.-L. Beauvois, N. Dubois: Affordances in social judgment

it is rooted in the possible ways of acting upon or with a target; realistic to the extent that it captures some of the targets intrinsic properties, even if they are structured by fundamentally utilitarian considerations; general in that it is not limited to a specific context of action. In the merged form of these two theories, traits are equated with generalized affordances and personology is equated with evaluative knowledge. Let us look at this idea in greater depth. An affordance captures certain properties of a target, in context, to the extent that those properties define possible actions on or with the target. For example, some of the apparent properties of a colleague, in a particular context, will make me see that colleague as a person I can trust, today, in my current course of action. I would say, then, that this colleague, here and now, looks honest. This affordance, in which a capturing of target characteristics is stated (labelled) in terms of the targets utility for my current action and particular state of attunement, may lead me to give him confidential information with a view to reaching a shared goal or even a goal that is solely my own. The generalization of this affordance could lead me to speak later of that target as a generally honest person. What would I mean exactly? Admittedly, it is unlikely that I would mean that he is a person who would turn in a wallet he found, or who would notify the bank of an error in his favor (two target behaviors used repeatedly in social cognition research to describe the trait honest). More likely, I mean that one can (that is, in general) exhibit a behavior with this colleague that an earlier affordance led me to exhibit or envisage: you can trust him, you can give him confidential information, you can lend him the keys to your office. These are all actions that others can take towards the target (OB behaviors). And what about the people listening to me, what will they understand? That the colleague Im talking about turns lost wallets into the police or mentions errors in his favor? Perhaps if we believe certain researchers in social cognition. But maybe, even without any cognitive detours, they will understand outright that one can trust him and confide in him. The use of a trait does indeed supply general information about a target person, insofar as it conveys the affordances that may come to be when one comes in contact with that person. Thus, behind any trait there is a register of reality made up of one or more actual affordances, accompanied by a personological premise of implicit internal causality that allows the affordances to be generalized by removing them from specific contexts. If a trait, say the trait honest in our example, is indeed a generalized affordance, its use in a person description should therefore activate the repertoire of actions that others exhibit towards/with that person (OB behaviors), as well as the well-known repertoire of behaviors exhibited by the target person him/herself (TB behaviors).
Swiss J Psychol 59 (1), 2000, Verlag Hans Huber, Bern

Thus, we define a trait as the result of the generalization of one or more affordances, i.e., as referring to a decontextualized universe of possible ways of acting upon or with a person who has that trait. The empirical part of this article validates this understanding of traits and the importance of OB behaviors. It will be followed by an analysis of some theoretical implications of the view defended here.

The importance of the behaviors of others in the personological universe: traits as generalized affordances
This section presents a series of experimental studies, some already published, others currently under review, and still others awaiting write-up. Although based on a wide variety of paradigms, these studies show three important things. 1. Others Behaviors (hereafter called OBs) work just as well in personology as Target Behaviors (hereafter called TBs). More specifically: Study 1 (Beauvois & Dubois, 1992, Exp. 1) shows that OBs provide a system for encoding traits that is just as efficient as TBs. Studies 2a (Beauvois & Durand, 1998) and 2b (Beauvois & Frattino, 1996) show that OBs drive implicit personality theories that are very much like the ones driven by traits. Study 3 (Dubois & Beauvois, 1999) shows that as person recall cues, OBs are as good as traits and TBs. 2. OBs can be more accessible when one is dealing with the more evaluative traits in the personological repertoire. More specifically: Study 4 (Beauvois & Dubois, 1992, Exp. 2) shows using a semantic decision-making task that the time taken to assign an OB to a highly evaluative trait is no longer than the time taken to assign a TB to the same trait. This no longer holds true when the traits in question are not very evaluative. Study 5 (Beauvois, Dubois, Mira & Monteil, 1996, Exp. 3) shows that in person-information recall, OBs are retrieved better than TBs when they instantiate very evaluative traits, whereas TBs are retrieved better when they instantiate traits that are not very evaluative. 3. OBs are more accessible when a social context is made salient. More specifically: Studies 6a and 6b (Beauvois, Dubois & Tarquinio, 1994) show using a semantic decision-making task that the time taken to assign OBs to highly evaluative traits decreases when a social representation or a social context is activated (in other words, the effect obtained in Study 4 increased).

J.-L. Beauvois, N. Dubois: Affordances in social judgment


Study 7 (Dubois & Tarquinio, 1998, Exp. 2) shows that OBs are highly accessible when the social judgment is work-related. 4. OBs trigger more discriminating social judgments than do traits or TBs: Study 8 (Mignon & Mollaret, 1999) shows this using judgments at zero acquaintance. In the studies described below, OBs and TBs were used as stimuli. By definition, a TB is a behavior that can be exhibited or executed by a person, and is a typical example of a trait that characterizes that person. Say a man is seen pointing out to a supermarket cashier that she gave him back a hundred extra francs. The behavior pointing out a mistake made in ones favor is a TB that allows one to attribute the trait honest to that man. An OB, again by definition, is a behavior that others can exhibit or execute towards or with a person and is a typical example of a trait that characterizes that person. For instance, others may or may not trust a person. Someone you can trust is an OBtype expression. It too allows one to attribute the trait honest to the person others trust. TBs and OBs were collected using a standard two-step procedure: 1. free production by subjects of OB and TB behaviors for various traits, and 2. statistical study with new subjects of trait/behavior associations. For step 1, for example, Beauvois & Dubois (1992, 1993) read a list of 33 traits to students. Half were asked to state a behavior a person with each trait could be expected to exhibit (TB). The other half were asked to state a behavior than one could/should exhibit towards a person with that trait (OB). Redundancies were then eliminated and the wording was standardized across the subjects responses, giving two final lists for each trait: one containing only TBs (mean number of TBs per trait: 15.1) and one containing only OBs (mean number of OBs per trait: 10.5). For step 2, different subjects were given one or the other of the two behavior lists (TBs or OBs) and were asked to choose the behaviors they felt best represented what the trait conveyed. This was used to determine which TBs and OBs had equivalent association frequencies. To avoid parentheses containing statistical data, two types of effects will be mentioned below: 1. statistically significant effects (p < .05) and 2. clearly nonsignificant effects (p > .15).

Study 1. Trait/behavior association frequencies

The view presented above assigns a trait-processing role to OBs that is at least as important as the one TBs are assumed to play. First we wanted to make sure OBs provide as good a system for encoding personological information as TBs. To this end, based on an earlier study of 33 traits, we gave 120 students 33 lists of behaviors each introduced by one of the 33 traits. Sixty students were given TB lists and sixty were given OB lists. The instructions were to check off the behaviors on each list that were the most characteristic of the information conveyed by the trait. The number of behaviors to check was stated and varied with list length (one behavior was to be selected for every five behaviors proposed). For each behavior checked, the students also had to rate their confidence in their answer on a 6-point scale (16). Only those behaviors checked by at least 25% of the students were retained. The main results are given in Figure 1, where the data for the 18 traits with a positive connotation (upper part of figure) are separated from the data for the 15 traits with a negative connotation. Column 1 gives the rank in the hierarchy of the trait/behavior association frequencies. These frequencies, which are averaged over all the traits examined,2 are shown in the Frequency column. The Confidence column gives the mean confidence rating for the trait/behavior associations. We can see for positive traits, for example, that the mean trait/behavior association frequency of the most widely chosen behavior on the TB lists (rank 1) was .70. The rank 1 associations obviously included all traits (18) and gave rise to a mean confidence rating of 4.12. The line immediately below gives the same information for the OB lists. The resemblance of the statistical properties of the two types of lists is striking: the frequency hierarchies are virtually identical, as are the confidence curves, which decrease with rank. There was only one small significant difference on the negative traits between how much confidence the students had in their TB vs. OB judgments. This difference is easily understood: students were probably somewhat reluctant to attribute confidence to a decision that says they might act towards others in a negative or very negative way. Basically the same results were found recently by Mignon & Mollaret (1999) with a different set of 24 traits. In their study, all lists had the same number of behaviors (three), judged in advance to be the most representative ones among larger behavior sets. Students chose only one
2 The number of traits decreases with the rank because not all lists had the same number of selected behaviors (selected by at least 25% of the subjects). Swiss J Psychol 59 (1), 2000, Verlag Hans Huber, Bern

Personological information in OBs is just as important as in TBs

One of the characteristics shared by the studies that fall under this heading is that they were not designed to demonstrate differences but similarities. So our presentation of the hypotheses will be brief. In each case, our goal will be to show that OBs work just as well as TBs.


J.-L. Beauvois, N. Dubois: Affordances in social judgment

Figure 1: (Study 1): Frequency of trait/behavior associations (TB and OB behaviors).

behavior. Mignon & Mollaret found that the top rank was earned by 58.62% of the TBs and 63.81% of the OBs. Rank 2 was obtained by 33.9% and 32.8%, respectively. These figures show that using a trait in a psychological description can activate the OB register, and that this register is not statistically more ambiguous or less unequivocal than the TB register. They thus raise the question of why, in spite of Gibson, OBs have been completely neglected in social cognition research.

Studies 2a and 2b. Implicit personality theories

Study 1 showed that OBs are a good system for encoding personological information. Studies 2a and 2b will show that the dimensional structure of the OB register is efficient and intelligible (Study 2a) and is a good approximation of trait-generated implicit personality theories (Study 2b). Remember that the term implicit personality theories is commonly used to refer to the dimensional structure of a matrix that describes associations between traits.

Swiss J Psychol 59 (1), 2000, Verlag Hans Huber, Bern

J.-L. Beauvois, N. Dubois: Affordances in social judgment


In Study 2a, 37 ordinary men and women had to sort 86 OBs representing 86 common traits. They were asked to put the OBs that went together in the same pile, and told they could make as many piles as they wanted. OBi and OBj were considered to co-occur every time they were put in the same pile. Each ij pair was then assigned a score between 0 and 37 equal to the number of co-occurrences. The co-occurrence matrix was converted into a distance matrix (using the distance index generally used in the study of implicit personality theories: see Rosenberg & Sedlak, 1972). The scores were processed in a multidimensional analysis that yielded a good, intelligible solution (alienation: .019; constraint: .017) with three dimensions. The first dimension was a classical bipolar evaluative dimension representing approach/avoidance. The behaviors were well distributed around zero on this dimension, which opposed OBs like You can undertake things with this person in full confidence to OBs like This is someone you should avoid. The other two dimensions were unipolar. Their interpretation was quite clear due to a few behaviors that were more highly polarized than the others. Note that in both cases, the behaviors on the first dimension were fairly neutral and defined a social relationship with the target. On dimension 2, the relationship could be described as target-helping and constructive goodwill (e.g., You have to reassure him/her all the time or We need to help him get ahead) and on dimension 3, it was subordination with respect to the target (Hes someone you need as an ally or You have to sell yourself to him). Study 2a thus defined an OB universe whose first dimension was the evaluative dimension of implicit personality theories (Beauvois, 1984; Kim & Rosenberg, 1980; Rosenberg & Sedlack, 1972). Dimensions 2 and 3 reflected the anchoring of OBs in a social reality that was both neutral and asymmetrical. This corresponds quite well to the idea that the social world is an affect neutralizer, and especially, that it has structural asymmetries. But is this OB universe as good an approximation of implicit personality theories as the ones that can be established on the basis of the traits themselves? This is the question we tried to answer in Study 2b. The materials were 32 traits (from the list used by Beauvois & Dubois, 1992), each accompanied by some information. Different pieces of information were selected on the basis of pre-tests (some of which were run specifically for this study, others that had served in earlier studies) designed to determine how well they instantiated the trait. They consisted of TBs, OBs, target states (TS) such as Someone who is happy with him/herself, and the states of others relative to the target (OS) such as Someone for whom you feel no compassion. At this point, the reader knows what OBs and TBs are. Both are behaviors. Mollaret (1998) suggests that the tendency of social psychol-

ogists to focus on the behavioral significance of traits may be rooted in a cultural bias. His studies showed that people can process, and be very sensitive to, another register of personological meanings, one composed essentially of states (feeling tense, feeling sympathetic, etc.). These last two types of information, the targets states and others states regarding the target, were thus added to Study 2b. Subjects (32 students) had to do five sorting tasks on this information. Here again, they could make as many piles as they wanted, as long as all information in a given pile went together. Everyone was given the traits first and asked to sort them into piles, and then, in a different but controlled order, they received the series of OBs, TBs, TSs, and OSs, each containing 32 items to sort. Five betweenitem distance matrices were then compiled following exactly the same procedure as in Study 2a. Table 1 gives the correlations between the five matrices. These correlations point out substantial structural consistency between the five types of personological information, and in particular, between the four types of traitbased information, so consistent that one can wonder what has caused researchers to take an overwhelming interest in only one of the types (TBs). This question is all the more troubling since various studies on OBs and the few studies on TEs (Mollaret, 1998) have shown that, despite this overall consistency, the values and causalities conveyed by other kinds of information differ from those of TBs. To get back to our point here, the fact remains that OBs supply as good an approximation of implicit personality theories as do TBs.

Study 3. Cued recall

The above studies grant OBs a personological role at least as important as that of traditional TBs. A study using the cued recall paradigm showed that whenever a person is characterized by a trait, OBs work as well as TBs. A sample of 354 students brought together in a lecture hall were given a test booklet containing five short portrayals of five persons described by their first name, some information previously tested and shown to be neutral (major in college, year in school, hobbies, demographic information, place of residence), and a piece of personological information expressed in the form of a trait. Only

Table 1: (Study 2b): Correlations between the distance matrices for five kinds of person information (Bravais-Pearson r) TB Traits TB OB TS .62 OB .66 .49 TS .59 .50 .57 OS .62 .47 .66 .62

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J.-L. Beauvois, N. Dubois: Affordances in social judgment

one of the portrayals (Pierres) was used later. The location of Pierres portrayal in the series was varied systematically. Four traits were used to describe Pierre: two with a positive connotation (honest and helpful) and two with a negative connotation (self-centered and liar). One of the four versions of Pierres portrayal is given below in illustration: Pierre is studying German. He is currently in his second year of college. People say hes an honest person. He likes to travel. He is single and lives in the Montbois dormitory. The students were instructed to read the five portrayals carefully and form an impression (they were told they had to get a feeling for the type of person they were reading about). Next they did a distractor task. After that, they were given one piece of information and asked to recall the name of the person it was about (in fact, the person was always Pierre). The information was either the trait stated in Pierres portrayal, a typical TB of that trait, or a typical OB of that trait. Finally, the students were asked various questions about how much confidence they had in their response. Regarding the recall of the name Pierre (01 variable processed in an ANOVA for dichotomous data), only the connotation effect was significant: students remembered Pierre better when he was described using a negative trait than a positive trait. The three recall cues used (trait, TB, OB) did not give rise to any significant variations (see row 1 of Table 2; the advantage of OBs over TBs was nonsignificant: p < .10). Confidence (rated on a 6-point scale) was greater for negative traits. It varied little with the type of recall cue, although there was a tendency (p < .10) suggesting that it might be greater when the trait itself was given (row 2) (a fact we are mentioning here because it turned out to be significant when only those students who remembered Pierres name were considered; see row 3). A twin experiment was conducted with memorization instructions (subjects were told to memorize the information they were given). The same results as above were found. The point worth retaining in these four studies is that OBs appear to provide personological information that is just as important as that supplied by TBs, from both the structural standpoint (implicit personality theories) and the operational standpoint (information processing and

memorization). We are now going to discover that OBs have some theoretically interesting qualities.

OBs are more accessible when we are dealing with highly evaluative traits
Two questions will be addressed in this section. Can OBs be regarded as inferences made by people on the basis of a memory store composed solely of TBs? Do OBs function equally well for all items in the personological lexicon? One of the independent variables in the experimental design calls for a few preliminary remarks. It concerns the traits used, and opposes so-called evaluative traits to socalled descriptive traits. The traits are labeled this way for convenience. We are indeed thoroughly convinced that traits have several underlying components: a descriptive component, an evaluative component, an affective component, and so on. We shall nevertheless oppose highly evaluative traits like honest, sincere, and hypocritical (traits whose evaluative component outweighs the descriptive component) to highly descriptive traits like shy, sensitive, and talkative (traits whose descriptive component outweighs the evaluative component). Although intuitively, this criterion is fairly straightforward, we conducted several pre-tests to validate our intuitions (see Beauvois & Dubois, 1991). While being based on in different theories, the various pre-tests all gave rise to virtually the same desirability hierarchy, the classical one (see Andersons list of 555 traits, 1981). Although in the English-speaking research, the concept of desirability traditionally confounds value and affect, it is clear here that the traits we call highly evaluative are indeed conveyors of strong positive or negative connotations, whereas the traits we call highly descriptive are closer to being neutral.

Study 4. Semantic decision-making

We contend that in many cases, access to the OB register is as direct as it is to the TB register. This assumption counters a hypothesis that one might use against us, that OBs result from inferences made on the basis of TBs, which therefore come first in the semantic processing of traits. One could, for example, claim that it is because I have stored in memory the association honest/turns in wallets to police (TB) that I can infer that an honest person is someone to whom I can lend money (OB). Note already that Study 1 above showed that such inferences must be perfectly trivial since the OB selection rate exactly matched the TB selection rate. To decide which of these two hypotheses is right, we used a semantic decision-making task. After practicing on five sentences paired with irrelevant words, twenty students tested individually read 80

Table 2: (Study 3): Recall of the targets name and corresponding confidence ratings, by type of recall cue Traits OBs TBs Recall rate Confidence in response (05) Confidence in response on correct recall (05) .49 3.09 3.91 .53 .42 2.55 2.57 2.97 3.17

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J.-L. Beauvois, N. Dubois: Affordances in social judgment


test sentences on a computer screen, each paired with a trait word. A test sentence was displayed followed by a trait word, and the subjects had to say as quickly as possible whether the sentence just read went with the information conveyed by the trait. Reaction time was recorded. The 80 sentences were experimentally associated with four trait words (20 sentences per word). Among the 20 sentences, 12 were OBs (6) and TBs (6) that instantiated the trait word and had variable but comparable association frequencies, 6 were OBs (3) and TBs (3) that instantiated other traits, and two were an OB and a TB that instantiated a virtual or true antonym of the trait word. Two of the four trait words (all with a positive connotation) were highly evaluative (likeable, honest) and two were highly descriptive (emotional, shy). Two contrasting hypotheses can be set forth here. The first is inconsistent with our predictions: if it is true that OBs are based on inferences made from TBs, then reaction time should always be greater for the former than for the latter. When working with reaction times, it is indeed customary to consider that cognitive operations take time. So, if an OB can only be judged after one or more TBs have been elicited, then reaction time should be longer than for TBs, which can be judged directly. One can therefore expect only a main effect of the type-of-behavior variable. The second hypothesis, which accords with our predictions, says that reaction time must not differ for OBs and TBs, at least for what we consider to be highly evaluative traits, i.e., ones that carry more utilitarian knowledge anchored in affordances. For these traits, OBs can be judged directly without the pre-activation of TBs. Now for highly descriptive traits, we agree that TB activation may be necessary. We thus expected to obtain and this was our main hypothesis an interaction between the type of trait and the type of behavior being judged, without ruling out the possibility of a main type-of-behavior effect for descriptive traits alone. Let us add that we had no theoretical grounds for making different hypotheses regarding positive and negative responses, even if linguistic studies on the affirmation/negation opposition (Clark, 1969; Singer, 1981) and research on the falsification of assertions (Gilbert, 1991) suggest that negative responses will take more time. The expected interaction (see Table 3) was indeed significant and supported our hypothesis. This shows that for positive and negative responses alike, OBs are judged as rapidly as TBs on evaluative traits. On the other hand, they are judged more slowly on descriptive traits. These results are only consistent with the TB pre-processing hypothesis in the case of descriptive traits. Indeed, in this case, OBs would follow TB processing, thereby accounting for the slowness of OB judgments. But the results also showed that on highly evaluative traits, OBs were

Table 3: (Study 4): Time taken (in ms) to judge relevant OBs and TBs in a semantic decision-making task (from Beauvois & Dubois, 1992) Evaluative traits OB TB Yes answer No answer 1103 1554 1098 1516 Descriptive traits OB TB 1462 1832 1197 1420

processed as quickly as TBs, which means that they, too, can be judged directly. These results allow us to contend that when highly evaluative traits are at stake, OBs are indeed stored and granted a status in long-term memory that is at least equivalent to that of TBs. Note that several models can account for this status (schemas or categories, associative networks, etc.), but that is another issue. So, we should be able to find proof of this status using the most typical person knowledge paradigms. The next study, which uses such a paradigm, will supply this proof.

Study 5. Person memory

Three nearly identical person-memory experiments were conducted. In the person-memory paradigm, subjects are given information about a target person and have to recall it later. The three experiments differed only with respect to the between-subject independent variables; the procedure and within-subject independent variables were identical. The results of the three experiments were exactly the same, so only one will be reported here. In the third experiment, 120 students who were enrolled in an ongoing education program at a local university were contacted individually. They were given a list of 36 behaviors said to be highly characteristic of a person named Jacques, and asked to get a feeling for what type of person Jacques was. Jacquess social status was not mentioned to one group of subjects, he was presented as a peer (another student in the same program) to a second group, and said to be a teacher in that program to a third group (between-subject variable: no information vs. student vs. teacher). The 36 behaviors describing Jacques instantiated 6 traits (3 highly evaluative: dynamic, honest, openminded; 3 highly descriptive: emotional, shy, enthusiastic). For each trait, three OB behaviors and three TB behaviors taken from past pre-tests were placed on a list. The OBs and TBs were matched on trait/behavior association frequency, but the traits themselves were never mentioned. After reading the behavior list, the subjects did a short distractor task involving operations on numbers, and then had to recall whatever they could remember about Jacques. We expected evaluative trait/OB associations and descriptive trait/TB associations to show up in the recall as an interaction between the type of trait and the type of behavior.
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J.-L. Beauvois, N. Dubois: Affordances in social judgment

Table 4: (Study 5): Behaviors retrieved as a function of the interaction between whether the behaviors were OBs or TBs and the evaluative vs descriptive nature of the instantiated trait (from Beauvois, Dubois, Mira & Monteil, 1996, Exp. 3) OB Evaluative traits Descriptive traits 2.68 1.74 TB 1.59 2.29

More precisely, we predicted that OBs would give rise to better recall on evaluative traits and that TBs would give rise to better recall on descriptive traits. The results are presented below. The findings were the same with pure memorization instructions (Beauvois et al., 1996, Exp. 2; see also Milhabet, 1999). In all five studies, the behavior (OB/TB) by trait (evaluative/descriptive) interaction was highly significant (p < .0001). In the present study, the mean number of behaviors subjects retrieved in each case is given in Table 4. For highly evaluative traits, subjects remembered more OBs than TBs, and vice versa for highly descriptive traits (they remembered more TBs than OBs). Additional analyses showed that the behavior recalled first was usually an OB whereas the behavior recalled last was usually a TB. They also showed that in the most frequently recalled pairs (two behaviors recalled one after the other), far more OBs than TBs were mentioned first. Study 5 thus confirmed the links observed in Study 4 between OBs and evaluative traits and between TBs and descriptive traits. It also suggested that OBs may be endowed with a memory structuring power that exceeds that of TBs.

presented here), the trait/behavior interaction was stronger when the target was said to be a student than when he was merely said to be a person. In Study 5 above, the second-order interaction revealed that it was when the targets social status was given, especially when he was presented as a teacher, that the trait/behavior interaction accounted for the greatest amount of variance. Again, when the target was just a person it accounted for the smallest amount. These observations suggest that in the more metalinguistic situations (see the semantic decision-making task in Study 2), subjects do as they are implicitly asked to do: they base their response on the meanings of the words, thereby minimizing the impact of evaluative knowledge to the greatest semantically-acceptable extent. But when the experimental situation brings into play a fictitious or real relational context, and thus has a social weight that takes the subject out of the purely metalinguistic register (see Study 5 where the target had a social status), evaluative knowledge represented by OBs is activated and produces maximal effects. This idea led us to conduct the studies reported below.

Studies 6a and 6b. Back to semantic decision-making

If the above considerations are valid, then the trait/behavior interaction observed in the semantic decision-making paradigm, which was purely metalinguistic in Study 4, should be stronger if the situation has some social significance. We conducted Studies 6a and 6b to test this hypothesis. In Study 6a, although the task itself was identical to the one used in Study 4 (subjects had to say whether a sentence was representative of the information conveyed by a trait), the following modifications were made. 1. One of the four traits was changed: the highly descriptive traits were the same (emotional and shy), but the highly evaluative traits were sociable and honest; 2. Each trait was associated with 24 behaviors from either the OB register or the TB register. In each case, half the behaviors were prototypical of the trait and the other half were not prototypical; 3. In one of the two experimental conditions (setting condition), the behavior (TB or OB) was placed in a social setting that was relevant to the trait in question (e.g., At a party, he enjoys talking to everyone). Thus, a task that was purely metalinguistic in one condition (no setting), took on social significance in the other condition via the introduction of a situational context. The social settings chosen were of course based on pre-tests. As in Study 4, reaction time was recorded. The statistical analysis revealed that for the two evaluative traits, OBs gave rise to shorter reaction times than did TBs in the

OBs are more accessible when a social context is made salient

More than the type of behavior (OB vs. TB) and more than the type of trait considered (evaluative vs. descriptive), what proves to be important in person memory is the fit between the type of behavior and the type of trait. A recent study (Milhabet, 1999) showed that it is easier to understand the links between person memory and person judgments when we take this fit into account. OBs seem to be very accessible when highly evaluative traits are at stake, and TBs seem to be so when the traits are more descriptive. This behavior-by-trait interaction has shown up time and time again in our experiments. We have sometimes found that it accounts for even more of the variance when the situation induces a mental representation of a social relationship with the target. This comes through as a second-order interaction that does not change the firstorder trait/behavior interaction but reduces or enhances it. Accordingly, in Beauvois et al.s (1996) Experiment 1 (not
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J.-L. Beauvois, N. Dubois: Affordances in social judgment


Table 5: (Study 6b): Time taken (in ms) to judge prototypical OBs and TBs in a semantic decision-making task, as a function of the presence/absence of a social setting Evaluative traits OB TB No social setting Social setting 2300 2025 2273 2263 Descriptive traits OB TB 2655 2464 2212 2022

Study 7. Work-related social judgments

In the social world, there are people whose job involves judging other persons for the purposes of determining what actions to take towards those persons. Their occupation is thus very representative of the conception of personology presented in this article. Social work is one such job. Our hypotheses would be substantially supported if we were to find that social workers exhibit sociocognitive functioning that exemplifies our concepts; they would be supported even more if those same social workers functioned in a different way when placed in an unusual situation that was not conducive to affordances. This is precisely what Dubois & Tarquinio observed. The subjects were 30 social workers. Their task consisted of reading some information about a person who had applied for a job as a home-care worker, then performing a distractor task, and finally, recalling the information in a written report to be turned into a colleague who would do the follow-up procedures. The information given to the subjects, which to increase credibility was presented in the form of an interview between the two social workers, included identifying information (shes about forty years old, has two children, wears glasses, has black hair, etc.), some neutral filler-type information (she shops at a supermarket, etc.), some evaluative or descriptive traits (between-subject variable), and OBs and TBs (within-subject variable) related to some other evaluative and descriptive traits not presented (within-subject variable). A final between-subject independent variable was the information processing mode presumably induced by the instructions. In one subject group, an uncommon processing mode in this population was induced with pure memorization instructions. In another group, the instructions forced the social workers to do on-line processing (impression formation instructions) during which they would typically make inferences as they learn about the target. In the last group, the subjects were asked to work as they usually did (so-called standard instructions). We assumed first of all that there would be few differences between the impression formation condition and the standard condition. In everyday situations, judgments are known to be based on on-line processing. In contrast, the memorization instructions were hypothesized to trigger different processes. Briefly, we expected the memorization instructions to cause information to be processed in a more descriptive way, whereas the other two kinds of instructions were expected to lead to more evaluative processing. We are only interested here in the test information that was recalled and written up in the report (see Table 8). It goes without saying that the social workers recalled many of the fillers. The first finding was that the memorization instructions led to poorer test-information recall than the other types
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social setting condition, whereas this difference did not exist in the no social setting condition, as already seen in Study 4. Note that for the two descriptive traits, the OB/TB difference was in the opposite direction: TBs always triggered shorter reaction times than did OBs. In sum, as shown by the second-order interaction, introducing a setting changed the interaction found in Study 4 (observed here in the no-setting condition) into a crossed interaction by causing a simple effect in the evaluative-trait condition (see Table 5 showing reaction time on prototypical behaviors). In Study 6b, there was one condition (called metalinguistic) that was strictly identical to the single condition in Study 4. A new experimental condition (called the known-person condition) was added. It required a pretest. In the pre-test, students (not the same ones as in the first condition) were asked to name a person who came to mind for each trait presented (the experimental traits were included). In the main decision-making task (two weeks later), instead of displaying the experimental traits as in Study 4, the subject was presented with the name he/she had given for each trait two weeks earlier. The subjects task was to say if the sentence displayed on the first screen was characteristic of the person whose name appeared on the second screen. The expected behavior (OB/TB) by trait (evaluative/descriptive) interaction was only found and was only significant in the known-person condition, with OBs that instantiated evaluative traits being judged faster this time than TBs, unlike what had been found in Study 4. There is nothing surprising about the fact that having a socially-oriented task strengthened the link between OBs and evaluative traits on the one hand, and between TBs and descriptive traits on the other. Indeed, concrete persons in context and in situations are what generate affordances, which once generalized, form the evaluative component of traits. It follows that these generalized affordances are more readily available when the experimental situation supplies cues that evoke concrete persons or concrete social situations. One can wonder, then, if greater evaluative-trait accessibility is not a common occurrence in social evaluation situations where personology is the underlying explanatory base.


J.-L. Beauvois, N. Dubois: Affordances in social judgment

Table 6: (Study 7): Information retrieved by social workers in a report to be given to a colleague (from Dubois & Tarquinio, 1998) Evalua- Descrip- Mean tive tive Memorization One-line Standard Mean .66 1.72 2.08 1.52 .66 .77 1.08 .84 .66 1.28 1.57 OB .41 1.06 1.01 .83 TB 1.0 .59 .75 .78 Mean .70 .82 .88

of instructions. The memorization condition also triggered more recall of TBs than OBs. The standard instructions, where the social workers did as usual, painted a very different picture of the situation: information from the evaluative register was recalled much better than information from the descriptive register, whether it was traits or behaviors that were at stake. The results for the impression formation instructions were very similar to those obtained for the standard instructions. Given that the same authors, in the same study, showed that this pattern of results was still found in a report written up a week later by the same social workers, and that Tarquinio (1998) was able to show how the manipulation of OBs increased over the three years of special socialwork training, we can contend that the kind of evaluations social workers do exemplifies an important principle in how personological concepts operate, as we have tried to illustrate through this series of experiments, namely, that the generalization of affordances is an evaluative phenomenon.

OBs generate more discriminatory social judgments Study 8. Judgments at zero acquaintance
Evaluative traits can thus be regarded as generalized affordances, i.e., as generalizations of a process at play during real-world, non-symbolic contact between a subject and an object. Clearly, mental representations do not give rise to affordances; only real objects in front of real people do. It follows that because personological concepts like OBs are at the nearest point of this subject/object contact, they will lead to more discriminating judgments than personological concepts that operate solely within mental representations, as do traits or even TBs, where the subject may be a mere observer. Research on judgments at zero acquaintance (personological judgments made from a picture of the target or a silent video clip) has shown that such judgments are not always based on pure figments of the imagination (see Zebrowitz & Collins, 1997): certain traits (e.g. dominance, extroversion, etc.) seem to obtain some degree of consenSwiss J Psychol 59 (1), 2000, Verlag Hans Huber, Bern

sus among judges, and even the targets self-descriptions sometimes confirm the judges opinions. However, zeroacquaintance studies have been limited to a small number of traits, and even when the results are significant, the agreement rate is not particularly impressing. This brings us to the question of whether using OBs as the assessment criteria would make such judgments more discriminating, and whether a wider range of traits could be used. Study 8 was conducted to explore this idea. Forty-eight students had to observe 12 targets (6 men and 6 women) presented in silent video clips lasting 78 seconds. The clips showed a target conversing with another person who was out of sight. Only the upper half of the targets body was visible. The setting was chosen to be as neutral as possible so as not to induce a socially-significant situational representation. The target presentation order varied across subjects. The subjects task was to rate each target on twelve 7-point judgment scales. For a third of the subjects, the scales corresponded to 12 traits (honest, liar, authoritarian, etc.), for another third, to 12 TBs that instantiated the above traits, and for the last third, 12 OBs that also instantiated those traits. The 12 traits were related either to affective value (F1 in Osgoods VPA model) or to social value (dynamism, F2 and F3 in the Osgood VPA model; for the affective/social value distinction, see Beauvois, Dubois & Peeters, 1999). The traits, OBs, and TBs were selected on the basis of a pre-test that gave us triplets in which the OB and TB behaviors were judged to be very typical of the trait and had comparable trait/behavior association frequencies. The data was processed with a view to answering three questions. The first was whether trait-based, TB-based, or OB-based judgments would generate more differentiated target portrayals (greater profile differences across scales). To answer this question, we calculated the gap for each target between the highest rating received no matter what trait, TB, or OB earned it and the lowest rating received again, no matter what trait, TB, or OB was responsible. This first analysis yielded a significant effect of the trait/ TB/OB variable. In short, TBs were more effective than traits (respectively m = 3.9; m = 3.22). OBs results were in an intermediate position (m = 3.52). Our second question was whether the degree of differentiation between the targets depended upon whether traits, TBs, or OBs were used. To answer this question, we calculated the gap between the rating of the target who received the highest rating and the rating of the target who received the lowest rating, for each trait (vs. each TB vs. each OB). Another way of wording this question is: did a given criterion (trait, TB, or OB) clearly discriminate the 12 targets? If the first question is relevant in psychological description, this second question is especially relevant in evaluations, where people must be differentiated (the good ones have to be

J.-L. Beauvois, N. Dubois: Affordances in social judgment


Table 7: Consensus in zero acquaintance judgments (Targets Mean Square / Judges Mean Square) traits loading Affective value Social value traits TBs OBs .12 .05 .05 .21 .18 .35

separated from the bad ones, the ones you hire from the ones you eliminate, and so forth). So we expected the effectiveness of OBs to show up in the answer to this question, which it did. The between-target discrepancies were indeed greater when targets were judged with OBs (m = 5.25) than when they were judged with TBs (m = 4.73) or traits (m = 4.43). A third question was that of consensus. The consensus in zero acquaintance judgments was assessed by the ratio: Mean Square of the targets variable / Mean Square of the judges variable. It appears that consensus was important only for traits related to social (versus affective) value and when OBs were objects of judgment (see Table 7). These are only the initial results of our ongoing research project. They are nonetheless quite useful, for two reasons. First, they show that the conception proposed here can be used to study zero acquaintance with a wider range of traits than available so far. Second, they show that when subjects are asked to put themselves in a target-contact situation that is as close to reality as they can, which occurs when the judgment criterion is an OB, evaluative efficiency is enhanced, a fact already suggested by past findings on judgments of sexual availability at zero acquaintance (Gangestad, Simpson, DiGeronimo & Biek, 1992). The concept of generalized affordances becomes all the more significant here, precisely because it provides the link between the real contacts people have with objects, and the personological representations they build in their minds of those objects.

posed of the behaviors of the target persons themselves (operationally: TBs), the only component considered in social cognition research until now. These studies also show that the evaluative component of traits is a powerful organizing principle underlying mental representations of persons. Another important finding is that the evaluative component is elicited more in social contexts, especially in work-related evaluations. Finally, they show that the evaluative component is at the peak of its efficiency in the immediate apprehension of persons, where it proves to be more discriminating than the descriptive component. This body of findings justifies our emphasis on the behaviors of others towards targets (OBs). But this is not the key point in our conception. We would like to conclude here by coming back to this comprehensive conception to show that it provides some solutions to questions that one could direct at any pragmatic conception, as Funder (1995) did, and to which the Gibsonian purist answers are not always satisfactory.

Personology as evaluative knowledge

Saying that a trait is based on a set of behaviors that one can or must exhibit towards the possessor of that trait as suggested by the generalized affordance concept and the experimental demonstration of the importance of OBs means accepting the idea that one of the direct, non-derived functions of personology is to inform us about what we can do to or with people. This is what an analysis of the cognitive-epistemological construction of traits led one of the present authors to see as the evaluative function of traits, and a fortiori, of personology (Beauvois, 1976, 1984, 1990). Indeed, using a trait to say what one can or must do to a person or how one can or must act with or towards a person amounts to directly stating his/her utility or social value in past actions or possible future ones. People throw away or ignore worthless objects; people seek, collect, or display valuable ones. The choice of the term evaluative to denote this knowledge-building process may be surprising. Indeed, this term already refers to something else in the psychosocial literature, where it is virtually always associated with the affective register. The evaluative component of the connotation of words in general, and of trait words in particular, is regarded as an element of their affective or emotional significance (Osgood, Suci & Tannenbaum, 1957; Osgood, 1962; Osgood, May & Miron, 1975), so widely relied upon in research on implicit personality theories (see Kim & Rosenberg, 1980). Hence, the common use of the expression the evaluative component of trait words is in fact equivalent to saying the feeling of attraction or revulsion that these words elicit (or that is elicited by the TBs they cause one to expect). In truth, for a reSwiss J Psychol 59 (1), 2000, Verlag Hans Huber, Bern

What reality encodes personology?
Our conception of the meaning of traits grants a major role to the behaviors of others towards the persons to whom the traits apply (operationally: OBs). OBs are what convey the utility or social value of persons, and form the core of evaluative knowledge. The studies presented above show that for the most highly evaluative traits which are also the ones most commonly used the OB component can be as accessible as the descriptive component com-


J.-L. Beauvois, N. Dubois: Affordances in social judgment

searcher who does not agree with the idea that the value of things is determined solely by human desire, the word affective would be more suitable than evaluative for this meaning. The fact remains that the common usage of the term evaluative does not require much of a cognitive analysis, and does not associate the evaluation process to a specific knowledge register. This is undoubtedly why evaluative processes have not captured much attention on the part of social cognition theorists (the word value is not listed in the index of the now-classical Fiske & Taylor, 1991). Yet it seems quite clear that OBs give rise to genuine, trait-conveyed knowledge. We agree that this knowledge is sometimes inferred from descriptive target knowledge, which we can assume, like everyone else, is supplied by TB processing. We also agree in this case that people engage in a sort of calculation process to figure out the evaluative implications of the descriptive knowledge furnished by the trait, in the typical way proposed by Srull & Wyer (1989). This probably paints a fairly true picture of what we have called more-or-less descriptive3 traits (e.g. shy, talkative). But it also holds true for more-or-less evaluative traits (e.g. honest, likeable, sociable), for which the information supplied by OBs seems to be as directly accessible as that supplied by TBs, and which does not lead to the calculation of the evaluative implications since the evaluation is supplied directly. These are the traits one can regard as generalized affordances. Note that we are not dealing here with a few odd traits with some sort of secondary status, ones that happen to serve the purposes of our argumentation. Far from it. These traits are very common in psychological descriptions, making them in fact more evaluative than descriptive in nature (Beauvois, 1988). It thus seems legitimate to claim that the kind of directly-accessible trait-conveyed knowledge that tells us what to do or how to act with people is evaluative knowledge (see Beauvois, 1990, 1994; Beauvois & Dubois, 1991, 1992, 1993). This kind of knowledge gives us a pretty good idea of the value or utility of people in the social settings that might exist in our environment.

Though evaluative, is personological knowledge realistic?

Let us be the devils advocate for a while. A proponent of the axiom Man is a scientist (an axiom that has been criticized, supplemented, qualified but never withdrawn from psychosocial metatheory) might analyze this

We prefer today to speak of more-or-less descriptive (or of more-or-less evaluative traits rather than of descriptive (or evaluative) ones as in the past.

conception as Funder (1995) analyzed pragmatic views of accuracy: generalized affordances and the evaluative knowledge that results from them are not knowledge of the real properties of a target. They result more from other peoples personal interest in a target, than from an informed observation of the targets behaviors or from inferences about what that target is like. This analysis is partly true and partly false. Below we shall use the example of the edibility of a product, since this trait is akin to a generalized affordance in personology (see McArthur & Baron, 1983). The devils advocate is partly right. A generalized affordance in the form of a register of othersbehaviors (OB) cannot be regarded as a descriptive property of an object in Funders sense of the term, any more than an affordance in context can. We have already stressed that an affordance captures some of an objects characteristics, those that allow people to act in accordance with their goals, but these characteristics are only encoded and labelled with respect to those goals. Seen as a generalized affordance, honesty, like edibility, mainly stands for a set of goals that one can reach with the target. However, these goals are not a property of that target as a known object, any more, in any case, than the capability of being eaten by those who are hungry or who like it is a descriptive property of the muscle of a lamb for example. But this analysis is also partly false, for two very different reasons. The first is related to the underlying conception of social reality. Note that the statement that edibility is not a property of the object in question here, would simply be false if, rather than the muscle of a lamb, we spoke of its meat. A muscle is a natural object studied by a physiologist. Meat is an object of social reality: It is a muscle inserted in a culture and in a set of social relationships, here, ones between sellers and consumers. In short, it is a muscle envisaged and defined from the standpoint of its potential social utility. In this light, edibility becomes a property of this particular object of our social reality (meat). It is even a defining property: if meat can be more or less juicy, it is edible by definition. To get back to generalized affordances and to honesty, in all likelihood we are dealing here with true properties of people, no longer seen as Homo Sapiens Sapiens but as known social objects, as human beings inserted in a culture and in a network of social contexts, human beings envisaged and defined with respect to the social utility they are likely to have. The lack of a linguistic distinction equivalent to the muscle/meat distinction should not let us forget that people are more readily consumers who have some knowledge of product utility than they are physiologists whose epistemological mission is precisely to break away from those utilities. Why, when dealing with human beings, would people just naturally lend themselves to acting like

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physiologists? If these considerations are well-founded, one can contend that personology indeed supplies the properties of persons, but of persons as social objects. More than the tool of scientific psychologists, personology is a tool of teachers, parents, human resource managers, supervisors, and so on. It is a tool used to act upon social objects defined by social relationships in our example, the pupils, the children (not the offspring of Homo Sapiens Sapiens), the job applicants, the subordinates and it is in this sense that the efficiency of that object must be judged. In this noteworthy point of view, the famous big five often held to be proof of peoples ability to describe themselves and describe others on the basis of a universal personality structure (Sneed, McCrae & Funder, 1998) (a structure we would willingly say was the personality of Homo Sapiens Sapiens in the era of civilizations) are not void of social utility but are individually endowed with a positive utility pole and a negative utility pole (obviously, agreeable people are more valuable than nasty ones; No. 3 in the big five: agreeableness). The devils advocate is probably wrong on another point, an epistemologically more traditional one. A generalized affordance does indeed convey information about the nature of a target (about the muscle, not just the meat). It is not because certain target characteristics have been integrated into a utilitarian label (edible, honest) that they have been completely eliminated from the knowledge-building process. They are merely transformed by the utilitarian or evaluative mode of thinking. This is probably what Zebrowitz & Collins (1997) meant when they said that an affordance is not in the eye of the judge. A formal representation of the trait-construction process, even a rudimentary one, could help us explain this idea (see Beauvois, 1976). A long-standing tradition leads us to posit behavior (B) as hinging on an interaction between the characteristics carried by the person (Cp) and the characteristics of the situation and environment (Cs) (Argyle & Little, 1972; Bowers, 1973; Endler, 1975; Lewin, 1935): 1) B = f (Cp1 Cp2 x Cpn Cs1 Cs2 Csn) Intuitive psychology is at a loss in the face of this interaction. Firstly, because of the fact that it puts the people as figures upon the ground it leads intuitive psychologists to neglect the situation (and especially the environment) in which they themselves are acting. Secondly, there is a problem because the social objects they are appraising (the pupils, the children, the subordinates, ) are defined in a particular realm of social relations and contexts. Hence the fundamental attribution error (Ross, 1977), also called the correspondence bias by Jones et al. (Jones, 1990), which consists of overlooking the characteristics of the situation and the environment:

2) B = f (Cp1*Cp2*Cpn)4 A third problem is that the lighter cognitive load enabled by the discounting principle, added to the linguistic shortcuts achieved by using the same word for the act and the person (Nisbett & Ross, 1980), discourages them from looking for more than one characteristic, especially when it comes to frequent, favorable events. All this leads intuitive psychologists to search for the cause of a behavior rather than the variables that affect it. All they have to do, then, to be able to refer to people is find a label that has a causal air to it, one that combines the various Cp characteristics. This turns the above equation into: 3) B = f(P) Lastly, there is a problem because what they are really interested in is not behavior B per se (the object that scientific psychology studies), but the value that behavior has (vB). The intuitive psychologist does not really care about what someone does in a given setting, but rather whether he/she does it well or does it poorly, in the here and now: 4) vB = f(P) Accepting Equation 1 requires agreeing that what remains in Equation 4 which expresses trait attribution (she produces this desirable behavior because she is an honest person) is a condensed form specific to the situational and environmental context of the characteristics carried by the person. Thus, when the situation and environment vary little, a generalized affordance does indeed capture, in a syncretic way, some of the targets real properties, even if it means integrating them into a single label that fits the evaluative judgment. This is why we can contend that in stating a targets utility (by attributing it a trait: this meat is edible, this person is honest), we are also making a statement about what it is even if we are not saying much, and even if going from Equation 1 to Equation 4 means no longer knowing what we are really talking about. We are thus led to conclude that conceiving of traits as generalized affordances means seeing them as providing potentially realistic knowledge, for two good reasons. First and foremost, the knowledge that traits supply is realistic because it is direct information about the utility of a target as an object of social reality in specific contexts. There is no reason to consider knowledge about utility unrealistic. It is realistic if we agree 1. that social reality is a real kind of reality; 2. that people are also objects of knowledge for other people who exist in that social reality, and 3 that the utility in question has effects, in that reality, that are not illusions (employment, promotions, aca-

The transition from (1) to (2) is only formally acceptable when there is no interaction between the person variables and the situational variables (purely additive effect). Swiss J Psychol 59 (1), 2000, Verlag Hans Huber, Bern


J.-L. Beauvois, N. Dubois: Affordances in social judgment

demic failures, encounters, referrals for therapy, and so on). Secondly, traits supply knowledge that can be called realistic in the more traditional sense of the term (which is also Funders understanding), in that they convey, albeit without actually stating, the intrinsic properties of targets, considered this time as natural objects, even if we cannot say exactly what those properties are and to what extent they convey them.

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Jean-Lon Beauvois Laboratoire de Psychologie Exprimentale et Quantitative Universit de Nice Sophia-Antipolis 24 avenue des Diables Bleus F-06357 Nice Cedex 4 E-mail: Beauvois@unice.fr

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