ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2016, Vol. 48 ›› Issue (12): 1538-1550.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2016.01538

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The influence of implicit theories of personality on processing strategy of person impressions

CUI Yichen1,2; WANG Pei1,3; TAN Chenhao1   

  1. (1 School of Education, Shanghai Normal University, Shanghai 200234, China) (2 Environment and Development Research Center of Jiangsu Province, Nanjing Forestry University, Nanjing 210037, China) (3 School of Psychology, Nanjing Normal University, Nanjing 210097, China)
  • Received:2015-06-05 Published:2016-12-24 Online:2016-12-24
  • Contact: WANG Pei, E-mail:


The individuals can be divided into two categories in accordance with implicit theories of personality: the entity theorists, who believe that the personality and character are inherent, and the incremental theorists, who believe that the personality and character change gradually. As a significant individual difference, ITPs affects the mechanism of cognitive processing of social perception and impression formation of others. Although some researches on the individual difference about impression formation infer the existence of ITPs by the difference of behavioral outcome, there is no research to investigate the influence of impression formation to others by ITPs and it’s unclear whether exists the effect of impulsive-reflective system or not. In light of this, the aim of the research is to test whether different presentation forms can cause different processing strategies of impression formation to others and elucidate how ITPs affect the impression formation to others by observing entity theorists and incremental theorists. Three assumptions can be given in this research: (1) The ITPs of individuals can affect “top-down” and “down-top” on linkage effect as a kind of mental representation. So we can study the information judgment of person impression is instant or memory-based. (2) Entity theorists and incremental theorists perceive others in different way that Entity theorists adopt heuristic processing while incremental theorists analytic processing. (3) Through heuristic processing, entity theorists form impressions by real-time judgments while incremental theorists by memory-based judgments form through analytic processing. The experiment includes two stages. (1) Preliminary stage: 120 subjects are selected as participants to be experimented with the adapted fairytale. As a result, 42 entity theory participants and 48 incremental theory participants are distinguished. (2) Experiment stage: 90 college students selected in the preliminary stage as participants who have different ITPs and directional situations to judge the information of behavior are designated to record the discrepant dates of free recall and frequency estimation through illusory correlation effect which includes mere exposure effect and co-occurrence memory judgment effect. The results of experiment led to two conclusions. (1) Fairytale Test is capable to distinguish effectively the implicit theories of personality of participants which means the entity theory is opposite to incremental theory, and they are two extremes. Moreover, different personalities have the same implicit theory. (2) The ITPs can affect “top-down” and “down-top” on linkage effect as a kind of mental representation and then guide the social perception of people. Impression formation adopts real-time judgment under the influence of entity directional situations while memory-based judgments are adopted to form impressions through incremental directional situations. Comparing with entity theorists, the participants of incremental theorists use less initial information to built expression and there exist deviations of impression and consciousness when they are memorizing and judging. As a result, incremental theorists need more effort to form individual evaluative impression. In short, the individuals who have different implicit theories of personality adopt different information processing ways to perceive others. Entity theorists take heuristic processing and incremental theorists use analytic processing. When taking heuristic processing, entity theorists form impressions through real-time judgments while incremental theorists take memory-based judgments to form impressions through analytic processing, and finally person impression is formed by means of situational information. According to the research, the situational factors have effect in the intensity of the ITPs of individuals but don’t change inherent ITPs from research. And the information processing ways and ITPs have obvious interaction under the influence of different directional situations. So, the separation effect which is caused by processing methods of social cognition on the representation of ITPs, as a kind of important individual variables, has effect in individual emotion, attitude and behavior. As a result, combining the situations of real life, it has theoretical and applied value for us to discuss the basic issue that how the ITPs affect the processing strategy of impression formation. The ensuing research will enlarge the age range of samples and trace the physically and mentally changes of different types of object so that we can find the separation effect caused by processing methods of social cognition which includes automatic processing and controlling processing on the representation and brain mechanism of ITPs. Furthermore, whether Fairytale Test can test effectively the generality and difference of ITPs needs to be traced down by recording the real performance of subjects in order to increase the repeatable verification and extrapolation efficacy.

Key words: implicit theories of personality, person impression, real-time judgment, memory-based judgment, illusory correlation effect