Theoretical and Measurement Issues in Trait Psychology
Theoretical Issues - Outline
Consistency Across Situations
· Trait psychologists traditionally assumed cross-situation consistency
· If situations mainly control how people behave, then the existence or relevance of traits is questionable
· Hartshorne and May (1928): Low cross-situation consistency is in honesty, helpfulness, self-control
· Mischel (1968): Personality psychologists should abandon their efforts to explain behavior with traits, focusing instead on situations
· Situationism: If behavior varies across situations, then situational differences and not personality traits determine behavior
· Mischel’s (1968) critique encouraged debate in personality psychology about the importance of traits compared to situations in causing behavior
· Both sides tempered views: Trait psychologists acknowledged the importance of situations, and situationists acknowledged the importance of traits
· Debate led to two lasting changes: Focus on person-situation interaction and practice of aggregation
· Two possible explanations for behavior:
· Behavior is a function of personality traits
· Behavior is a function of situation
· Integration: Personality and situation interact to produce behavior
· Differences between people make a difference only under certain circumstances
· Situational specificity: Certain situations can provoke behavior that is out of character for an individual
· Strong situation: Situations in which most people react in a similar way (e.g., grief following loss of loved one)
· When situations are weak or ambiguous, personality has its strongest influence
· Three additional ways in which personality and situation interact to produce behavior
· Selection: Tendency to choose or select situations in which one finds oneself, as a function of personality
· Evocation: Certain personality traits may evoke specific responses from others
· Manipulation: Various means by which people influence the behavior of others; tactics of manipulation vary with personality
· Longer tests are more reliable than shorter ones and are better measures of traits
· Single behavior or occasion may be influenced by extenuating circumstances unrelated to personality
· Aggregation implies that traits are only one influence on behavior
· Aggregation also implies that traits refer to the person’s average level
· Thus, personality psychologists will never be good at predicting single acts or single occasions
1. Define and discuss situationism. Provide an example of a situationist interpretation of individual behavioral differences.
2. Discuss the idea of person-situation interaction. Provide an example of an interactionist interpretation of individual behavioral differences.
3. Define and give an example of situational specificity.
4. Define and give an example of a strong situation.
5. Discuss and give examples of selection, evocation, and manipulation as ways in which traits and situations can interact to produce behavior.
6. Discuss aggregation and why it is now a standard practice among trait psychologists.
Theoretical and Measurement Issues in Trait Psychology
Measurement Issues – Outline
· Trait approach relies on self-report surveys to measure personality
· Personality psychologists assume that people differ in the amounts of various traits, so a key measurement issue is determining how much of trait person has
· Traits are often represented as dimensions along which people differ
· Trait psychologists are aware of and address circumstances that affect accuracy, reliability, validity, and utility of self-report trait measures
· Method for detecting such problems is an infrequency scale embedded in test
· Infrequency scale contains items that most people answer in a particular way
· If a participant answers differently than most, this suggests carelessness
· Another method for detecting carelessness is to include duplicate items spaced far apart in the survey—if the person answers the same item differently, this suggests carelessness
Faking on Questionnaires
· “Fake good”: Attempt to appear better off or better adjusted than one is
· “Fake bad”: Attempt to appear worse off or less adjusted than one is
· Method to detect is to a devise scale that, if answered in particular way, suggests faking
· Acquiescence: Tendency to agree with items, regardless of content; psychologists counteract by reverse-keying some items
· Extreme responding: Tendency to give endpoint responses
· Social desirability: Tendency to answer items in such a way so that one comes across as socially attractive or likable
· Two views on social desirability:
· Represents distortion and should be eliminated or reduced
· Resolved by (1) measuring and statistically removing, (2) designing surveys that are less susceptible to this response set, or (3) using forced-choice format
· Valid part of other desirable personality traits, such as agreeableness, and should be studied
· Self-deceptive optimism versus impression management
7. Discuss the measurement issue of careless responding and how trait psychologists might address this problem.
8. Discuss the measurement issue of faking and how trait psychologists might address this problem.
9. Discuss the measurement issue of response sets and how trait psychologists might address this problem.
10. Discuss the two major views of socially desirable responding among trait psychologists.
Theoretical and Measurement Issues in Trait Psychology
Personality and Prediction - Outline
· Whether someone does well in an employment setting may be determined, in part, by whether a person’s personality traits mesh with job requirements
· Personality traits may predict who is likely to do well in particular a job, so it makes sense to select people for employment based on measures of traits
· But using tests to select employees has limitations and potential liabilities
· Lawsuits have challenged the use of tests on the grounds ranging from discrimination, to invasion of privacy, to freedom of religion
· Most employers receive overall test scores; however, not the applicant’s answers to specific questions
· In 1978, the EEOC standardized federal guidelines for the use of tests in employment selection
· Two main concerns that the employer must satisfy to use for employment selection
· Test must predict performance on a specific job or jobs like the ones people are being selected for
· Test must not be biased or have “undue impact” on persons from protected groups, such as women and minorities
Personnel Selection—Choosing the Right Person for Job as Police Officer
· Personality tests frequently used to screen out “wrong” individuals from a pool of applicants for police officers
· 16 Personality Factor (16PF) Questionnaire
Beware of Barnum Statements in Personality Test Interpretations
· Barnum statement: generality that could apply to anyone
Educational Selection: The Graduate
Record Examination (GRE) and Success in
· Most graduate schools require applicants to take the GRE, and most schools use GRE scores to some degree in deciding whom to accept into program
· GRE is an aptitude test thought to reflect intelligence or the capacity to learn
· Many studies have been conducted to assess the degree to which GRE scores predict success in psychology graduate school
· Meta-analyses reveal that GRE scores do predict success in graduate school, but correlations are only modest (.15 to .40)
· Four arguments for why GRE scores can be useful, even though they only modestly predict success in graduate school
· Even small increments in predictability above chance can be useful
· Costs of failing to select the right people into graduate school can be high
· GRE scores can be useful if used with appropriate criterion (i.e., what we want to predict)
· Criterion problem: Concerns how we define and measure the criterion we want to predict
· Validity of GRE depends on which criterion used to define success in graduate school—if defined as obtaining Ph.D., GRE scores are valid predictors
· Research indicates that, without range restriction, correlations between GRE scores and success in graduate school are high, ranging from .30 to .70
Selection in Business Settings—The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and Choice of Leaders
· MBTI is most widely used personality assessment device in business settings
· Assesses eight fundamental preferences, which reduce to four scores:
· Extraverted versus introverted
· Sensing or intuitive
· Thinking or feelings
· Judging or perceiving
· Four scores combined to yield 16 types
· MBTI used widely to select applicants for leadership positions
· But criticism, especially regarding reliability and predictive validity
11. Discuss the application of trait measures to employment selection. What are some of the benefits and liabilities of using traits measures for employment selection?
12. Discuss the use of the GRE as a means of selecting applicants for admission to graduate school in psychology.
13. Define and discuss the “criterion problem” that one faces when attempting to use trait measures to predict real-world behavior.
14. Define and discuss “restriction of range” as a problem one can face when attempting to use trait measures to predict real-world behavior.
15. Discuss integrity testing as a means of employment selection.
Personality Dispositions Over Time
Stability, Change, and Coherence - Outline
Personality Stability Over Time
Stability of Temperament During Infancy
· Temperament: Individual differences that emerge very early in life, are heritable, and involved behaviors are linked with emotionality
· As assessed by caregivers, temperament factors include activity level, smiling and laughter, fear, distress to limitations, soothability, and the duration of orienting
· Research points to the following conclusions
· Stable individual differences emerge early in life, where they can be assessed by observers
· For most temperament variables, there are moderate levels of stability over time during the first year of life
· Stability of temperament is higher over short intervals of time than over long intervals of time
Level of stability of temperament increases as
Stability During Childhood
· Longitudinal study: Investigation of same group of individuals over time
· Block and Block Longitudinal Study: Study of 100 children assessed at 3, 4, 5, 7, and 11 years
· One study using Block and Block Longitudinal Study: Individual differences in activity level
· Activity level assessed in two ways: Using actometer and independent assessments of behavior and personality provided by teachers
· Stability coefficients: Correlations between same measures obtained at two different points in time (test-retest reliability)
· Validity coefficients: Coefficients between different measures of the same trait at the same time
· Actometer measurements of activity level had positive validity coefficients with teach measurements of activity level: Thus, activity level in childhood can be validly assessed with measures
· Activity level measurements are all positively correlated with measures of activity level taken at later ages: Activity level shows moderate stability during childhood
· Size of correlations decreases as the time interval between different testings increases
· Stability of childhood aggression
· Individual differences in aggression emerge early in life, by 3 years
· Individuals retain rank order stability on aggression over many years
· Stability coefficients decline as interval between two times of measurement increases
Rank Order Stability in Adulthood
· Across different self-report measures of personality, conducted by different investigators, over differing time intervals (3 to 30 years), broad personality traits show moderate to high levels of stability
· Average correlations across traits, scales, and time intervals is about +.65
· Stability also found using spouse-report and peer-report
Personality consistency tends to increase in
stepwise fashion with increasing age—personality appears to become more
and more “set in plaster” with age
Mean Level Stability in Adulthood
· “Big five” personality factors show a consistent mean level stability over time
· Especially after 50, very little change in the average level
· Small but consistent changes, especially during the 20s
· Openness, extraversion, neuroticism decline with age until 50
· Conscientiousness and agreeableness show gradual increase with time
1. Discuss the stability of temperaments during infancy.
2. Discuss personality stability during childhood.
3. Discuss empirical work examining the life trajectories of bullies and whipping boys from childhood to adulthood.
4. Discuss empirical work on rank order personality stability in adulthood.
5. Discuss empirical work on mean level personality stability in adulthood.
Personality Dispositions Over Time
Personality Change - Outline
Changes in Self-Esteem from Adolescence to Adulthood
· Transition from early adolescence to early adulthood appears to be harder on women than on men, in terms of the criterion of self-esteem
· Females tend to decrease in self-esteem, males tend to increase in self-esteem
· Appears to be a coherent set of personality variables linked with changes in self-esteem over time for each sex
Flexibility and Impulsivity
· Study of architects: Measured personality twice, with testing separated by 25 years
Sample as whole showed marked decreases in
impulsivity and flexibility with age—suggests that, with age, people tend
to become less impulsive and more fixed in ways
Autonomy, Dominance, Leadership, and Ambition
· Longitudinal study of male managerial candidates, first when men were in their 20s and then followed them up periodically over a 20-year span, when men were in their 40s
· Steep decline in ambition—steepest during first eight years, but continued to drop over next 12 years
· Supplementary interviews suggested that men became more realistic about limited possibilities for promotion in a company
· But note that autonomy, leadership motivation, achievement, and dominance increased over time
· Increases with age from childhood to adolescence
· Peaks in late adolescence, around ages 18–20
· Falls more or less continuously with age after the 20s
· Consistent drop in femininity from the early 40s to early 50s
· Drop was not related to menopause per se
Perhaps attributable to decreases in the levels
· In Mills study, obtained self-reports of competence for women and their husbands when women were 27 and again at 52
· Women showed a sharp increase in self-assessed competence
· Husbands showed constant scores across two time periods
Women’s increased competence did not
depend on whether they had children
· In Mills’s study, women were assessed for independence (self-assurance, resourcefulness, competence, distancing self from others, not bowing to conventional demands of society) at 21 and again at 43
· For divorced mothers, nonmothers, and working mothers, independence increased over time
· Only traditional homemakers showed no increase in independence over time
· These results highlight utility of examining sub-groups within a sample
Personality Changes Across Cohorts: Women’s Assertiveness in Response to Changes in Social Status and Roles
· Cohort effects: changes (for example, in personality) over time that are attributable to living in different time periods rather than to “true” change
· Research by Jean Twenge
6. Discuss work on changes in self-esteem from adolescence to adulthood, and day-to-day changes in self-esteem (self-esteem variability).
7. Discuss empirical work on the changes over time in flexibility and impulsivity.
8. Discuss empirical work on the changes over time in autonomy, dominance, leadership, and ambition.
9. Discuss empirical work on the changes over time in sensation seeking.
10. Discuss empirical work on the changes over time in femininity, competence, independence, and independence, based on the Mills College Study.
Personality Dispositions Over Time
Personality Coherence Over Time – Outline
Personality Coherence Over Time: The Prediction of Socially Relevant Outcomes
· Personality coherence: Predictable changes in manifestations or outcomes of personality factors over time, even if underlying characteristics remain stable
Marital Stability, Marital Satisfaction, and Divorce (Kelly and Conley, 1987)
· Longitudinal study of 300 couples from engagements in 1930s to 1980s
· During first testing session in 1930s, friends rated each participant’s personality on many dimensions
· Three aspects of personality strongly predicted marital dissatisfaction and divorce
· Husband’s neuroticism
· Husband’s impulsivity
Alcoholism and Emotional Disturbance
· In a longitudinal study of men, high neuroticism predicted the later development of alcoholism and emotional disturbance
Alcoholic men had lower impulse control scores
than men with emotional disturbance
Education, Academic Achievement, and Dropping Out (Kipnis, 1971)
· Among low SAT scorers, there is no link between impulsivity and subsequent GPA
· Among high SAT scorers, high impulsive people had consistently lower GPAs than low impulsive people
· High impulsive people are more likely than low impulsive people to flunk out of college
Prediction of Personality Change
· Can we predict who is likely to change in personality and who is likely to remain the same?
· Caspi and Herbener (1990) studied middle-aged couples over an 11-year period, in 1970 and again in 1981
· Researchers asked: Is the choice of marriage partner a cause of personality stability or change?
· People married to a spouse highly similar to themselves showed most personality stability
· People married to a spouse least similar to themselves showed most personality change
11. Discuss the relationship between wife’s personality, husband’s personality, and subsequent marital dissatisfaction and divorce
12. Discuss the relationship between personality and subsequent alcoholism and emotional disturbance.
13. Discuss the relationship between impulsivity and subsequent educational and academic achievement.
14. Discuss empirical work on the relationships between childhood temper tantrums and adult outcomes such as criminality.
15. Discuss work suggesting that choice of marriage partner predicts personality change and stability over time.
16. Identify and discuss other personality dimensions besides traits that might change over time.