Automatic goal inferences

Ran R. Hassin*, Henk Aarts, Melissa J. Ferguson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

130 Scopus citations


The social psychological literature on automatic social inferences has focused on one construct that helps explaining human behavior-traits (e.g., Gilbert, Pelham, & Krull, 1988 ; Trope, 1986 ; Winter & Uleman, 1984 ). The dispositional roots of behavior, however, go beyond relatively stable constructs such as traits to include more transient causes such as one's intentions and goals. Evidence from young infants and adult chimpanzees, knowledge acquired in the text-comprehension literature and hypotheses derived from the Automatic Causal Inferences framework ( Hassin, Bargh, & Uleman, 2002 ), seems to converge: they all suggest that perceivers may automatically infer goals from behaviors. This paper reports four studies that examine this hypothesis. The first two use surprise cued-recall, and look at goal inferences when the road to goal achievement seems straightforward and when it seems blocked. Studies 3 and 4 use on-line methodologies - probe recognition task and lexical decision-to examine whether these inferences are made at encoding.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)129-140
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2005

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Xining He for her devoted help in designing and conducting Study 2, and John Bargh and Yaacov Trope for discussions of the main topics. We also thank Gary Sushi for inspiring discussions of the central topics. The work in this paper was supported by grants from the Israeli Science Foundation (# 846/03) to Hassin, and from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research to Aarts (VIDI-Grant 452-02-047).


  • Attribution
  • Automaticity
  • Cause
  • Control
  • Goals
  • Inferences
  • Spontaneity


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