Date of Award

Spring 2017

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

John D. Mayer

Second Advisor

David B. Pillemer

Third Advisor

Rebecca M. Warner


As we encounter other people, we form impressions of and judgments about them. Based on these evaluations, we choose whether we want to interact any further, and if we do, what type of relationship we want to have. Although such choices can have far-reaching consequences, we typically base them on tacit knowledge. Our abilities to reason about our own and others’ personalities—abilities theorized to be part of a personal intelligence (Mayer, 2008)—determine in part the relationship outcomes we experience.

The existence of such an intelligence implies that people have a “database” they consult when making personality-relevant decisions. This raises the question: Can people readily recall events in which they learned about someone else’s personality? In three studies, I show that most college students described an episode that taught them about positive and negative personality characteristics. The perceived costs and benefits associated with the target predicted whether the relationship strengthened or weakened after learning took place (Studies 2 and 3). Moreover, independent trained judges detected differences in sophistication significantly related to ability-based personal intelligence (Study 3). These findings suggest that people, with varying nuance, note personality information that they perceive as making another person a suitable or useful social companion. People also infer life lessons from their everyday “personality education.”