Social class differences in N400 indicate differences in spontaneous trait inference

Michael E.W. Varnum, Jinkyung Na, Asuka Murata, Shinobu Kitayama

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


An emerging literature indicates that dispositional bias in causal attribution of social behavior is weaker for people with working-class (vs. middle-class) backgrounds. However, it is unknown whether this difference is also present in spontaneous forms of trait inference. In the current work, American undergraduates were asked to merely memorize many pairings of a target face and a trait-implying behavior. In a subsequent lexical judgment task, after each face was presented as a fixation, either an implied trait or its antonym was given as a target. As expected, participants with college-educated parents (middle class) showed a strong N400 event-related potential component to the antonym (vs. the implied trait), suggesting spontaneous trait inference during the memorization phase. In contrast, those with high-school-educated parents (working class) showed no such effect. It is important to note that the N400 spontaneous trait inference effect was associated with perceived significance of dispositions in accounting for social behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)518-526
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Culture
  • N400
  • Social class
  • Spontaneous trait inference

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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