The innuendo effect: Hearing the positive but inferring the negative

Nicolas Kervyn, Hilary B. Bergsieker, Susan T. Fiske

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


Speakers can convey mixed impressions by providing only positive information. As a series of studies shows, when communicators omit information on a salient, relevant dimension of social perception, listeners make negative inferences about the target on that omitted dimension, despite directly receiving only positive information on another dimension (Studies 1 and 2a). These negative inferences mediated the effect of the innuendo manipulation on judgments about the target person's suitability for inclusion in one's group. Simulating communication, Study 2b participants read Study 2a's descriptions and showed this innuendo effect is stronger for descriptions of female as opposed to male targets in an academic domain. We discuss implications of innuendo for the communication and perpetuation of mixed impressions and their prevalence in descriptions of subordinate group members.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)77-85
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Communication
  • Competence
  • Innuendo effect
  • Warmth


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