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Lecture 22

ANTHROP 3HI3 Lecture Notes - Lecture 22: Level Of Measurement, Trait Theory, Consistency

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Priscilla Medeiros

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Chapter 4 Personality traits, situations, and behavior
The trait approach
1. All research within the trait approach relies on correlational designs
2. The trait approach focuses exclusively on individual differences (relatives,
not absolutes; ordinal scale ranking 1st, 2nd, 3rd, rather than ratio)
a. Comparisons are a strength of the trait approach but they can also be
a weakness; the trait approach neglects aspects of psychology
common to all people, as well as the ways in which each person is
- Every man is in certain respects a like all other men, b like some other
men, c like no other man – Kluckhohn & Murray
o Trait approach neglects (a) and (c) and focuses on (b)
People are inconsistent
- Someone may be shy in one situation and dominant in another
- Casual observation is sufficient to confirm that personality traits are not the
only factors that control and individuals behavior: situations matter too
o This is because situations vary according to the people who are
present and the implicit rules that apply
- If situations are so important, how important is personality?
o Not very
o There is a possibility that traits do not exist and people continually
change who they are according to the situation, and that everybody is
basically the same
- Older people are more consistent in personality than younger people
Stability of the differences between people increases with age
30-year-olds are more stable across time than are children and
People between 50 70 are the most stable of all
Older people who have established careers, families, etc. might
find it hard to imagine erratic personalities during youth
- People differ from each other in the degree to which they have developed a
consistent personality
That the consistency of personality is associated with maturity
and general mental health
More consistent people are less neurotic, more controlled,
more mature, and more positive in their relations with others
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The person-situation debate
- Which is more important for determining what people do, the person or the
- Mischel argued that behavior is too inconsistent from one situation to the
next to allow individual differences to be characterized accurately in terms of
broad personality traits
- Three issues:
1. Does the personality of an individual transcend the immediate
situation and provide a consistent guide to her actions, or is what a
person does utterly dependent on the situation she is in at the time?
2. Are common, ordinary intuitions about people fundamentally flawed?
3. Why do psychologists continue to argue about the consistency of
personality, year after year?
- The belief that behavior is largely driven by the situation, and that
personality is relatively unimportant is called situationism:
1. There is an upper limit to how well one can predict what a person will
do based on any measurement of that persons personality; this upper
limit is a low upper limit
2. Therefore, situations are more important than personality traits in
determining behavior
3. Not only is the professional practice of personality assessment a
waste, but also everyday intuitions about people are fundamentally
flawed. The trait words used to describe people are not legitimately
descriptive in all situations. People who believe personality is
important commit the fundamental attribution error
- The test of the usefulness of a personality trait is whether it can be used to
predict behavior
o Situationists argue that this predictive capacity is limited
- Relationships between:
o S-data and B-data
o I-data and B-data
First two comparisons address the ability of personality-trait
judgments to predict behavior
o B-data and other B-data
Consistency of behavior across situations
B-data mostly assessed in laboratory situations
- For correlations: both positive and negative correlations imply that one
variable can be predicted from the other, but correlations near zero means
two variables are unrelated
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- Mischel said behavior-personality correlations or behavior-behavior
correlations had a maximum correlation of 0.3
o Nisbett revised this estimate to 0.4
o So personality traits are not important
o 1. Situationists are right and 2. The upper limit is low
The response
- Unfair literature review
o Mischels review was selective and unfair
o Too short and only looks at a few studies that have disappointing
o These accusations are difficult to prove, however
- We can do better
o Claims that the upper limit of 0.4 is a result of poor research
o One improvement is to conduct more naturalistic studies
o A second improvement is based on the possibility that some people
are more consistent than others
Ex; one study about the trait of sociability found it was easier
to predict behavior of people who said they were consistent in
social situations than people who said they were inconsistent
People who prefer to be consistent are actually more
Some behaviors may be more consistent than others (ex; how
much a person gestures or how loudly a person talks are
consistent, but goal-directed behaviors like trying to impress
someone are more likely to depend on the situation)
o A third improvement is to focus on general behavioral trends than
single actions
Ie; take average behavior over a long period of time
o These three suggestions (measure behavior in real life, check for
variations in consistency, and predict behavioral trends rather than
single acts) are good ideas for improving personality research
They represent potential more than reality
This is difficult because real-life behaviors are not easy to
assess, individual differences in consistency may be subtle and
difficult to measure, and the prediction of behavioral trends
requires that the researcher observe many different behaviors,
not just a few
- A correlation of 0.40 is not small
o Remember that the situationist critique says:
(1) A correlation of 0.40 represents the true upper limit to
which one can predict behavior from personality or see
consistency from one behavior to another, AND
(2) this is a small upper limit
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