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Chapter 4

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McMaster University
Judith Shedden

Psych 2B03: Theories of Personality Chapter 4: Personality Traits, Situations, and Behaviour The Measurement of Individual Differences - Certain psychological properties and processes are universal - Other properties of people differ but in ways that allow individuals to be grouped - Each individual is unique and cannot be meaningfully compared with anyone else - Trait approached is based on the ideas that all men are like some other men and that it is meaningful and useful to assess broad categories of individual difference, it assumes that in some real sense people are their traits People are Inconsistent - Casual observation, therefore, is sufficient to confirm that personality traits are not the only factors that control an individual’s behaviour; situations are important as well - Older persons are more consistent than younger ones - Consistency of personality is associated with general mental health The Person-Situation Debate - Mischel argued that behaviour is too inconsistent from one situation to the next to allow individual differences to be characterized accurately in terms of broad personality traits - 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? - Are common, ordinary intuitions about people fundamentally flawed, or basically correct? - Why do psychologists continue to argue about the consistency of personality, when the basic empirical questions were settled long ago? - A thorough review of the personality research literature reveals that 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, and this upper limit is low - Therefore, situations are more important than personality traits in determining behaviour (situationism) - Therefore, not only is the professional practice of personality assessment mostly a waste of time, but also, everyday intuitions about people are fundamentally flawed. The trait words used to describe people are not legitimately descriptive, because people generally tend to see others as being more consistent across situations than they really are - Predictability:  The situationist argument:  Definitive test of the usefulness of a personality trait is whether it can be used to predict behaviour  Situationist argue that this predictive capacity is severely limited  Relationship between S data/I data and B data: address the ability of personality-trait judgments to predict behaviour  Relationship between B data and B data: consistency of behaviour across situations  Personality traits are unimportant in the shaping of behaviour due to the small correlations  The response:  Unfair-literature review: o Relevant research literature goes back more than 60 years and contains literally thousands of studies  We can do better: o Claims that the .40 limit is a result of poor or less than optimal research methodology o Move research out of the laboratory o Some people might be more consistent than others o Focus on general behavioural trends instead of single actions at particular moments  A correlation of .40 is not that small: o It is critical to evaluate how much p
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