Beyond Observation: Manipulating Circumstances to Detect Affordances and Infer Traits

Cari M. Pick, Steven L. Neuberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Social perceivers seek to understand the opportunities and threats others potentially afford—for example, whether a teammate will behave tenaciously or a romantic partner, faithfully. We typically detect affordances and draw trait inferences by observing behaviors that reveal or predict others’ likely intentions and characteristics. However, detection and inference from simple observation are often difficult (e.g., even dishonest people are frequently honest, people often mask unpopular beliefs). In such cases, we propose that people test, actively manipulating others’ circumstances to reveal hard-to-observe affordances and characteristics. The Observation-Testing Model is a framework predicting circumstances under which testing is more likely to happen, which affordances and characteristics are more likely to be tested for, and which people are more likely to test and be tested. We identify preliminary support for the model from a range of literatures (e.g., employment assessment, coming-of-age rituals, dating processes) and identify areas needing further research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)160-179
Number of pages20
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2022


  • group processes
  • information gathering
  • interpersonal processes
  • observation-testing model
  • person perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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