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Conceptions of states and traits: Dimensional attributes with ideals as prototypes

Author(s): Chaplin WF, John OP, Goldberg LR

Abstract

Traits and states are concepts that people use to both describe and understand themselves and others. We show that people view these concepts as prototype-based categories that have a graded internal structure and fuzzy boundaries and identify a set of attributes that define the prototypical cores of two categories: traits and states. Prototypical traits are stable, long-lasting, and internally caused. Prototypical states are temporary, brief, and caused by external circumstances. These prototypes are not defined by averages, as the family-resemblance principle would suggest, but by ideal (or extreme) attribute values. Like other ideal-based categories, traits and states serve particular goals. Trait concepts permit people to predict the present from the past; state concepts identify those behaviors that can be controlled by manipulating the situation. These two complementary schemas are part of the extensive theory of psychological causality that is implicit in language. Abstract social concepts differ from object categories in their category standards, the nature of their attributes, and the interrelations among those attributes.

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