The Overblown Implications Effect

78 Pages Posted: 6 Jul 2016 Last revised: 1 Dec 2017

See all articles by Alice Moon

Alice Moon

The Wharton School

Muping Gan

University of California, Berkeley

Clayton Critcher

University of California, Berkeley - Marketing Group

Date Written: November 6, 2017


People frequently engage in behaviors that put their competencies on display. But do actors understand how others view them in light of these performances? Seven studies support an overblown implications effect (OIE): Actors overestimate how much observers think an actor’s one-off success or failure offers clear insight about a relevant competency. Such effects were observed on judgments of intelligence (Study 1) and likeability following a trivia quiz or getting-acquainted interview, respectively. To explain the OIE, we introduce the construct of working trait definitions—accessible beliefs about what specific skills define a general competency. When actors—those under the threat of evaluation—try to adopt observers’ perspective, the narrow performance domain seems disproportionately important in defining the general trait. As this account anticipates, actors overblow performances’ implications even in prospect, before there are successes or failures on which to ruminate (Study 3). Furthermore, such errors emerge when one considers being the object of evaluation, not merely when one considers how another would make social evaluations (Study 4). A novel intervention that broadened actors’ working trait definitions to include other (unobserved) trait-relevant behaviors eliminated the OIE (Studies 5-6). A final study (Study 7) more precisely localized the meta-inferential error. Although meta-perceivers and observers agreed on what a single success or failure (e.g., the quality of a single batch of cookies) could reveal about actors’ narrow competence (e.g., skill at baking cookies), meta-perceivers erred in thinking observers would feel this performance would reveal a considerable amount about the broader skill (e.g., cooking ability).

Keywords: meta-perceptions, social judgment, working trait definitions, behavioral diagnosticity

Suggested Citation

Moon, Alice and Gan, Muping and Critcher, Clayton, The Overblown Implications Effect (November 6, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

Alice Moon (Contact Author)

The Wharton School ( email )

Jon M. Huntsman Hall
3730 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

Muping Gan

University of California, Berkeley ( email )

310 Barrows Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

Clayton Critcher

University of California, Berkeley - Marketing Group ( email )

Haas School of Business
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

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