Professor of Psychology
Social, Cognition & Perception


Implicit impressions of other people: influences and effects.

Our impressions of, and reactions to other people are both explicit and implicit. Traditional research on person perception focused on the explicit level, giving research participants explicit goals to form impressions, presenting explicit relevant information, and assessing perceptions with explicit measures. But over the past 20 years, it’s been well established that implicit impressions are just as important, and can be studied through a growing array of methods. Implicit impressions may be formed spontaneously (without intentions or even awareness), at encoding. They may be based on (or influenced by) information that perceivers are unaware of, and have effects that perceivers do not recognize or cannot control. My students, collaborators and I study such implicit impressions (see Uleman et al., 2008), as well as other unintended (Uleman & Bargh, 1989), spontaneous inferences (e.g., Hassin et al., 2002).

When people read that “The secretary solved the mystery half-way through the book,” most infer that he is clever, even without any explicit intention to form impressions. Evidence for such spontaneous trait inferences (STIs) comes from studies relying on cued recall (Uleman et al, 1993; 1994), probe recognition reaction times (Uleman, Hon et al, 1996), lexical decision RTs (Zárate et al, 2001), and false recognition rates (Todorov & Uleman, 2002; 2003; 2004). See Uleman, Newman, & Moskowitz (1996) for a review of early empirical work, and Uleman (1999) for more theoretical speculations. Here are a few of the interesting phenomena that have emerged from this work.

- Perceivers’ explicit processing goals affect implicit inferences, even though perceivers are unaware of making them (Uleman & Moskowitz, 1994).

- STIs describe not only behaviors, in trait terms (Newman & Uleman, 1993); they also describe actors. That is, the inferences become part of how actors are represented in memory (Todorov & Uleman, 2002; 2003; 2004).

- Stereotypes of actors affect STIs, and these effects differ from the effects of stereotypes on intentional, explicit impressions (work with C. Gonzalez, in preparation).

- Individualists make STIs more readily than collectivists (Zárate et al., 2001). More generally, there are cultural and personality differences in the extent to which people make STIs, as well as in the content of these inferences.

- Perceivers’ psychological distance from actors affects STIs, making them more likely at greater distances (Rim et al., May, 2007).

- STIs, as activated concepts, can prime (bias) subsequent information processing.

- Even though people are unaware of STIs, they can exercise some control over their effects on subsequent judgments. One can estimate how much STIs’ effects are controlled, and how much they are automatic, under various conditions (Uleman et al, 2005).

Many questions remain for future research, beyond how to better understand the effects noted above. We are working on some of these:

- How do social relationships with others (e.g., power or status differences) affect STIs vs. intentional, explicit impressions?

- How can individual differences in individualism and collectivism be measured more reliably, and do such differences affect STIs?

- How might multiple automatic and controlled processes contribute simultaneously to forming STIs (at encoding) and to controlling their effects (at retrieval)? How might these interactions be conceptualized and modeled?

- What are the neurological correlates of spontaneous vs. intentional inferences about others?

- Is the inherent ambiguity of trait terms (Uleman, 2005) resolved differently for spontaneous vs. intentional inferences about others?

- Are STIs merely descriptive of behaviors and actors, or is causality implicit in these concepts? How might causal Bayesian networks address this question?

More generally, I’m interested in social cognition, person perception, and how social motives and situations affect these.


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Ph.D. 1966 (social psychology), Harvard University
B.A. 1961 (psychology), University of Michigan
No Degree, 1957-59 (phsyics), Caltech


- Society for Experimental Social Psychology
- Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues
- European Association of Experimental Social Psychology
- American Association of University Professors
- Union of Concerned Scientists


- Fellow, American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science
- Associate Editor, Social Cognition (1994-2006)
- National Science Foundation and National Institute of Mental Health research grants
- 2013 Thomas M. Ostrom Award from the Person Memory Interest Group (PMIG), and the International Social Cognition Network (ISCON). “in recognition of his outstanding contributions to social cognition.”

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Selected Publications

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Kressel, L. M., & Uleman, J. S. (2015). The causality implicit in traits. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 57, 51-54.

Lee, H., Shimizu, Y., & Uleman, J. S. (2015). Cultural differences in the automaticity of elemental impression formation. Social Cognition, 33, 1-19.

Orghian, D., Garcia-Marques, L., Uleman, J. S., & Heinke, D. (2015).A connectionist model of spontaneous trait inference and spontaneous trait transference: Do they have the same underlying processes? Social Cognition, 33, 20-66.

Kubota, J. T., Mojdehbakhsh, R., Raio, C., Brosch, T., Uleman, J. S., & Phelps, E. A.. (2014). Stressing the person: Legal and everyday person attributions under stress. Biological Psychology, 103, 117-124.

Brosch, T., Schiller, D., Mojdehbakhsh, R., Uleman, J. S., & Phelps, E. A. (2013). Neural mechanisms underlying the integration of situational information into attribution outcomes. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 8, 640-646. http://dx.doi:10.1093/scan/nst019.

Rim, S., Min, K. E., Uleman, J. S., Chartrand, T. L., & Carlston, D.E. (2013). Seeing Others Through Rose-Colored Glasses: An Affiliation Goal and Positivity Bias in Implicit Trait Impressions. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49, 1204-1209. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2013.05.007.

Uleman, J. S., & Kressel, L. M. (2013). A brief history of theory and research on impression formation. In D. E. Carlston (Ed.). Oxford handbook of social cognition (pp. 53-73): New York: Oxford University Press.

Ferreira, M. B., Garcia-Marques, L., Hamilton, D., Ramos, T., Uleman, J. S., & Jerónimo, R. (2012). On the relation between spontaneous trait inferences and intentional inferences: An inference monitoring hypothesis. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 1-12.

Saribay, S. A., Rim, S., & Uleman, J. S. (2012). Primed self-construal, culture, and stages of impression formation. Social Psychology (special issue on Culture as Process), 43, 196-204.

Uleman, J. S., Rim, S., Saribay, S. A., & Kressel, L. M. (2012). Controversies, questions, and prospects for spontaneous social inferences. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 6, 657-673.

Uleman, J. S., & Saribay, S. A. (2012). Initial impressions of others. In K. Deaux & M. Snyder (Eds.), Oxford handbook of personality and social psychology (pp. 337-366). New York: Oxford University Press.

Uleman, J. S., Kressel, L. M., & Rim, S. (2011). Spontaneous inferences provide intuitive beliefs on which reasoning proper depends. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 34, 90-91. (Commentary on Mercier & Sperber’s Why do humans reason? Arguments for an argumentative theory. BBS, 34, 90-91)

Kressel, L., & Uleman, J. S. (2010). Personality traits function as causal concepts. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46, 213-216.

Rim, S., Uleman, J. S., & Trope, Y. (2009). Spontaneous Trait Inference and Construal Level Theory: Psychological distance increases nonconscious trait thinking. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 45, 1088-1097.

Schiller, D., Freeman, J. B., Mitchell, J. P., Uleman, J. S., & Phelps, E. A. (2009) A neural mechanism for first impressions.  Nature Neuroscience, 12, 508-514. doi:10.1038 nn.2278

Uleman, J. S. (2009). Automatic (spontaneous) propositional and associative learning of first impressions. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 32, 227-228. doi:10.1017 S0140525X09001162 (a commentary on the target article by Mitchell, De Houwer & Lovibond)

Uleman, J. S., Saribay, S. A., & Gonzalez, C. (2008). Spontaneous inferences, implicit impressions, and implicit theories. Annual Review of Psychology, 59, 329-360.

Rim, S., Uleman, J. S., & Trope, Y. (May, 2007). Spatial distance affects implicit impressions of others. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science. Memphis, TN.

Uleman, J. S. (2005). On the inherent ambiguity of traits and other mental concepts. In B. F. Malle & S. D. Hodges (Eds.). Other minds: How humans bridge the divide between self and others (pp. 253-267). New York: Guilford Publications.

Uleman, J. S., Blader, S. L., & Todorov, A. (2005). Implicit impressions. In R. R. Hassin, J. S. Uleman, & J. A. Bargh (Eds.). The new unconscious (pp. 362-392). New York: Oxford University Press.

Hassin, R. R., Uleman, J. S., & Bargh, J. A. (Eds.) (2005) The new unconscious. [ a sequel to Uleman & Bargh's Unintended Thought, 1989 ]. New York: Oxford University Press.

Todorov, A., & Uleman, J. S. (2004). The person reference process in spontaneous trait inferences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 482-493.

Todorov, A., & Uleman, J. S. (2003). The efficiency of binding spontaneous trait inferences to actors' faces. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 39, 549-562.

Hassin, R., Bargh, J. A., & Uleman, J. S. (2002). Spontaneous causal inferences. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38, 515-522.

Todorov, A., & Uleman, J. S. (2002). Spontaneous trait inferences are bound to actors: Evidence from false recognition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 1051-1065.

Zárate, M. A., Uleman, J. S., & Voils, C. I. (2001). Effects of culture and processing goals on the activation and binding of trait concepts. Social Cognition (special issue on culture and cognition), 19, 295-323.

Uleman, J. S., Rhee, E., Bardoliwalla, N., Semin, G., & Toyama, M. (2000). The relational self: Closeness to ingroups depends on who they are, culture, and the type of closeness. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 3, 1-17.*

*This paper received the Misumi Award from the Japanese Group Dynamics Association and the Asian Association of Social Psychology.

Uleman, J.S. (1999). Spontaneous versus intentional inferences in impression formation. In S. Chaiken & Y. Trope (Eds.). Dual-process theories in social psychology (pp. 141-160). New York: Guilford.

Uleman, J. S., Hon, A., Roman, R., & Moskowitz, G. B. (1996). On-line evidence for spontaneous trait inferences at encoding. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 22, 377-394.

Uleman, J. S., Newman, L. S., & Moskowitz, G. B. (1996). People as flexible interpreters: Evidence and issues from spontaneous trait inference. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (Vol. 28, pp. 211-279). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Rhee, E., Uleman, J.S., & Lee, H.K. (1996). Variations in collectivism and individualism by ingroup and culture: Confirmatory factor analyses. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 1037-1054.

Rhee, E., Uleman, J. S., Lee, H. K., & Roman, R. J. (1995). Spontaneous self-concepts and ethnic identities in individualistic and collectivistic cultures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology ,69, 142-152.

Uleman, J.S., & Moskowitz, G.B. (1994). Unintended effects of goals on unintended inferences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66, 490-501.

Uleman, J. S., Moskowitz, G. B., Roman, R. J., & Rhee, E. (1993). Tacit, manifest, and intentional reference: How spontaneous trait inferences refer to persons. Social Cognition, 11, 321-351.

Newman, L.S., & Uleman, J.S. (1993). When are you what you did? Behavior identification and dispositional inference in person memory, attribution, and social judgment. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 19, 513-525.

Uleman, J.S., & Bargh, J.A. (Eds.), (1989). Unintended thought. New York: Guilford.

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James S. Uleman
Professor of Psychology

Department of Psychology
New York University
411 Lafayette St, # 344
New York, NY 10003
Phone (212) 998-7821
Fax (212) 995-4966

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