The Overblown Implications Effect

Journal of Personality & Social Psychology

102 Pages Posted: 6 Jul 2016 Last revised: 9 Dec 2022

See all articles by Alice Moon

Alice Moon

Georgetown University

Muping Gan

University of California, Berkeley

Clayton Critcher

University of California, Berkeley - Marketing Group

Date Written: June 7, 2019


People frequently engage in behaviors that put their competencies on display. But do such actors understand how others view them in light of these performances? Eight 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 (Study 1). Furthermore, actors overblow performances’ implications even in prospect, before there are experienced successes or failures on which to ruminate (Studies 2-3). To explain the OIE, we introduce the construct of working trait definitions—accessible beliefs about what specific skills define a general trait or competency. When actors try to adopt observers’ perspective, the narrow performance domain seems disproportionately important in defining the general trait (Study 4). By manipulating actors’ working trait definitions to include other (unobserved) trait-relevant behaviors, we eliminated the OIE (Study 5). The final three studies (Studies 6a-6c) more precisely localized the error. Although actors 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), actors erred in thinking observers would feel this performance would reveal a considerable amount about the more general skill (e.g., cooking ability) and related specific competencies (e.g., skill at making omelettes). Discussion centers on how the present theoretical account differs from previous explanations why meta-perceptions err and identifies important open questions for future research.

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

Suggested Citation

Moon, Alice and Gan, Muping and Critcher, Clayton, The Overblown Implications Effect (June 7, 2019). Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, Available at SSRN: or

Alice Moon (Contact Author)

Georgetown University ( email )

Washington, DC 20057
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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