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Chapter 4

Chapter 4 Personality Traits, Situations and Behaviour - Textbook Notes

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McMaster University
Richard B Day

Psych 2B03 2012 Part II: How People Differ: The Trait Approach Chapter 4: Personality Traits, Situations and Behaviour  Trait approach o Based on empirical research – mostly uses correlational designs  criteria is whether measurement can predict behaviour o Focuses exclusively on individual differences – measures the degree to which a person may be more/less of a trait  Prone to neglect aspects of human psychology that are common to all people, as well as ways people are unique The Measurement of Individual Differences  “Every man is in certain respects a) like all other men b) like some other men c) like no other man” – Clyde Kluckhohn and Henry Murray o Certain psychological properties and processes are universal (all people have biologically based needs for food, water and sex) o Other properties of people differ but in ways that allow individuals to be grouped  relevant to trait approach o Each individual is unique and cannot be meaningfully compared with anyone else (each persons genetic makeup, past experience, view of the world – different from anyone else) People Are Inconsistent  Personality traits are not the only factors that control an individuals behaviour – situations are important as well o Situations vary according to the people who are present and the implicit rules that apply  Stability is not consistent across all ages o 50-70 yo > 30 yo > teens, adolescent, children  People differ from each other in the degree to which they have developed a consistent personality for themselves  Studies suggest that the consistency of personality is associated with general mental health o More consistent = less neurotic The Person-Situation Debate  Focuses on the question “which is more important for determining what people do, the person or the situation?”  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 or basically correct? 3. Why do psychologists continue to argue about the consistency of personality when the basic empirical questions were settled  Situationist Argument; 3 parts 1. There is an upper limit to how well one can predict what a person will do based on any measurement of that persons personality; this upper limit it low 2. Situations are more important then personality traits in determining behaviour 3. Not only is the professional practice of personality assessment mostly a waste of time, everyday intuitions about people are fundamentally flawed – the trait words used to describe people are not legitimately description, because people tend to see others as more consistent over situations than they really are Predictability  The Situationist Argument o Definitive test of the usefulness of a personality trait is whether it can be used to predict behaviour o Situationists argue that this predictive capacity is limited; there is no trait that you can use to predict someone’s behaviour with enough accuracy to be useful o Mischel’s book, “Personality and Assessment” that triggered the person-situation debate surveys some of the research concerning the relationships between  S data and B data – self-descriptions and direct measurements of behaviour  I data and B data – others descriptions and direct measurements of behaviour  B data and other B data – others descriptions and others descriptions o Problem with studies – B data was gathered in a lab, not in natural settings o Correlation of 0. (Richard Nisbitt) between personality and behaviour in one situation and behaviour in another (originally 0.30, Mischel) o Personality does not exist 1 Psych 2B03 2012  0,40 is the upper limit for the predictability of a given behaviour from personality variables or behaviour in other situations  This upper limit is low  The Response – rebuttal from pro-personality side o Unfair Literature Review – Mischel’s review of the personality literature was selective and unfair  Michel’s review is short (16 pages) – shows that he was selective  Concentrations on a few studies that obtained disappointing results rather than on studies that obtained impressive findings  o We Can Do Better – 0.40 upper limit is a result of poor or less than optimal research methodology  Improvements – measure behaviour in real life, check for variations in consistency, seek to predict behavioural trends rather than single acts 1. Should collect data outside the lab – personality is more likely to become relevant in real, vivid and important situations  Real behaviours are difficult to assess 2. Take into account that a) some people might be more consistent than others b) some behaviours are more consistent than others  The behaviour of consistent people is easier to predict o High Self Monitors – quickly change their behaviour according to the situation o Low Self Monitors – more likely to express personality consistently from one situation to the next  Expressive behaviour (how much a person gestures, volume of speech etc) – more consistent  Goal-directed behaviour (trying to impress someone) – more likely to depend on the situation  Individual differences in consistency may be subtle and difficult to measure 3. Focus on general behavioural trends instead of single actions at particular moments  Average level of the expression of a trait is more predictable than what you will do in any particular moment or place – random variations tend to cancel out in an average  Prediction of behavioural tends requires the research to make many direct observations of behaviour o A Correlation of 0.40 Is Not Small  To assess whether 0.40 is big or small (or to assess any statistic) – need a standard of comparison  Evaluate correlation against an absolute standard – calculate how many correct and incorrect predictions of behaviour a trait measurement with this degree of validity would yield in a hypothetical context o Can be obtained from Binomial Effect Size Display (BESD) – correlation of 0.40 = prediction of behaviour based on a personality trait score is likely to be accurate 70% of the time; far from perfect, but relevant enough to be useful  Evaluate correlation against a relative standard – compare this degree of predictability for personality traits with the accuracy of other methods used to predict behaviour o Draw a comparison with the ability of situational variables to predict behaviour Situationism  Situations determine personality  Evaluate the degree to which behaviour is affected by a situational variable – subtraction (not legitimate) o Eg/ If personality variable was found to correlate 0.40 with a behavioural measurement and explained 16% of the variance, the other 84% is assumed to be due to situation o Does not allow you to say anything about which aspects of the situation might be important  Social Psychological Experiment – two or more separate groups of participants are placed, randomly, into one of two or more different situations (conditions) – measure what the participants do o Eg/ Incentives study – as participant to make a statement they do not believe – offer different size of incentives to participants – if the two groups of participants change attitudes toward the statement, you can conclude that the difference in incentives between the two conditions was the effective cause of this difference in attitude  Social Psychology pay little attention to the size of the situational effects they study; concentrate of statistical significance  Personality psychologists focus on the magnitude of their ability to predict behaviour; key statistic is correlation coefficient (measure of effect size and not statistical significance)  The “personality coefficient” 0.40 is not comparable with the effects found in social psychological studies of situational variables because the two styles of research do not employ a common metric  Experimental statistics used by social psychologists can be converted algebraically into correlations of the sort used by personality psychologists 2 Psych 2B03 2012  Forced Compliance Effect (Festinger and Carlsmith) – participants induced to t
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