“Morality, sociability, and competence are distinct dimensions of human social cognition”
Which sorts of trait information do people most care about when forming impressions of others? Pioneering research in social cognition suggested that “warmth” (or sociability), broadly construed, should be of chief importance in impression formation. In contrast, I contend that information about others’ specifically moral traits – their moral “character” – is a primary factor. Although warmth and morality have often been regarded as interchangeable, I argue that they are distinct, and that across a wide variety of contexts, morality is usually more important than warmth in impression formation. The studies I present will demonstrate the following points: (1) Morality and social warmth (sociability) traits are indeed separable; (2) Information about a person’s morality is generally more important in impression formation than information about warmth; (3) Whereas morality traits are judged positively regardless of a person’s warmth or competence, the positivity of warmth and competence traits depends on a person’s morality (i.e., such traits are not positive when a person is immoral); (4) Morality information predicts affective responses that are distinct from those predicted by warmth and competence. Together, these results show that morality information predominates in person perception and should be distinguished from warmth.