10th European Congress of Psychology edition:10 location:Prague date:3-6 July 2007
When used in subject-verb-object sentences, abstract verbs seem to elicit stronger causal inferences about the object and stronger personality inferences about the subject than concrete verbs. One possible explanations for this paradox is that inferring traits and explaining behaviors imply different cognitive mechanisms. The second is that verb abstraction affects inferences about the subject and the object in a curvilinear manner so that the paradox occurs because different studies have compared different verb levels. The present study was designed to compare the two explanations.
Design and methods. Participants read subject-verb-object sentences with descriptive action verbs, interpretative action verbs and state verbs. Half of them rated the degree to which each interactant caused the event, the other half rated the degree to which the events were informative about each interactant’ personality
Participants made stronger inferences about the subject and weaker inferences about the object from interpretative than from descriptive action verbs. They made weaker inferences about the subject and stronger inferences about the object from state verbs than from both interpretative and descriptive action verbs. The curvilinear effect of verb abstraction did not depend on whether participants made causal or personality inferences.
Verb abstraction affects causality and personality inferences in a curvilinear manner. Therefore, studies on the effect of verb abstraction on inferences should compare multiple verb types and that researchers seeking to explain the effect of verb abstraction on inferences from descriptions of interpersonal events should explain a curvilinear rather than a linear trend.