If you don’t have anything good to say – Spontaneous Trait Transference

 In Better Life, Focusing on the positive

When you’re talking about other people, do you tend to expound on their good traits, or do you find yourself venting about the things that bug you?

“You can tell more about a person by what they say about others than you can by what others say about them.” Audrey Hepburn

I wish I was able to say that I always focus on the good stuff, but I have a long way to go. Yet, I also realize that our brains are wired to focus on the negative, even when it comes to other people. So I do give myself permission to be human.

But I recently heard some news that makes me want to try even harder. I learned about Spontaneous Trait Transference — a term for a fascinating area of research on how the words we use to describe others are spontaneously associated back to us, the storyteller. 

If you commonly talk about other people using words like generous, friendly, amazing, smart, or helpful, people remember you using these words and will associate them with you, not just the person you were describing. Wow!  

But what about those times you complain about someone? If you use words like controlling, self-centered, or stuck-up, you might think that others would never think of you as having these negative characteristics. Interestingly, Skowronski et al. found that spontaneous trait transference is not based on logic, but is a mindless association.

Pay attention this week. Catch yourself if you start talking about someone’s bad traits. See if you can spend more time commenting on people’s good characteristics. It will be a positive reflection on you! 

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