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Are Personality Traits Contagious?

Are Personality Traits Contagious?

A new study has discovered that people unconsciously imitate other people’s personality traits, such as prudence, impatience, and laziness.

Prudence, impatience or laziness are typically thought of as entrenched personality traits that guide how people weigh the cost of risk, delay and effort, the researchers noted. But the new study, from Drs. Jean Daunizeau and Marie Devaine from INSERM in Paris, shows that people’s attitudes towards effort, delay, or risk drift toward those of others.

For the study, the two researchers combined mathematical modeling and cognitive psychology to explore the laws that govern attitude alignment.

They asked 56 participants to make a series of decisions involving risks, delays or efforts, both before and after having observed the decisions of fictitious participants whose prudent, patient, and lazy attitudes were sensibly calibrated. Those fictitious participants were in fact artificial intelligence algorithms, the researchers noted.

The study’s findings show that participants are bound to a “false-consensus” bias. That means they believe, without evidence, that the attitudes of others resemble their own, the researchers explain.

It also shows that people exhibit a “social influence” bias — their attitude tends to become more similar to those of the people around them.

Intriguingly, the social influence bias is partially determined by the false-consensus bias, the researchers pointed out. Social influence first increases with false-consensus for small false-consensus biases, but then decreases with false-consensus for large false-consensus biases, they said. Additionally, people seem to be mostly unaware of these biases, they note.

Mathematical simulations demonstrate that both biases, and the surprising interaction between them, are hallmarks of a unique mechanism that is ideally suited to learning both about and from others’ covert attitudes, according to the researchers.

This is at odds with the conventional view that attitude alignment is automatically  triggered by the need to experience feelings of social conformity, they note.

“Our work is in line with an ongoing effort tending toward a computational (i.e. quantitative and refutable) understanding of human and animal cognition,” the researchers say in the study, which was published in PLOS Computational Biology.

“In particular, we showed that formal information and decision theories provide invaluable insights regarding the nature and relationship of puzzling biases of social cognition.”

The researchers are now applying this work to assess whether this form of attitude alignment differs in people suffering from neuropsychiatric conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia.

Source: PLOS

Are Personality Traits Contagious?

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Are Personality Traits Contagious?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 1 Apr 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.