Using Traits To Predict Behavior

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Psychology

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Using Traits To Predict Behavior

Although our personality traits may be both stable and potent, the consistency of our specific behaviors from one situation to the next is another matter. As Walter Mischel (1968, 2009) has pointed out, people do not act with predictable consistency. Mischel’s studies of college students’ conscientiousness revealed only a modest relationship between a student’s being conscientious on one occasion (say, showing up for class on time) and being similarly conscientious on another occasion (say, turning in assignments on time). If you’ve noticed how outgoing you are in some situations and how reserved you are in others, perhaps you’re not surprised.

The point to rememberAlthough our personality traits may be both stable and potent, the consistency of our specific behaviors from one situation to the next is another matter.

This inconsistency in behaviors also makes personality test scores weak predictors of behaviors. People’s scores on an extraversion test, for example, do not neatly predict how sociable they actually will be on any given occasion. If we remember this, says Mischel, we will be more cautious about labeling and pigeonholing individuals. Years in advance, science can tell us the phase of the Moon for any given date. A day in advance, meteorologists can often predict the weather. But we are much further from being able to predict how you will feel and act tomorrow.

However, people’s average outgoingness, happiness, or carelessness over many situations is predictable (Epstein, 1983a,b). People who know someone well, therefore, generally agree when rating that person’s shyness or agreeableness (Jackson et al., 2015; Kenrick & Funder, 1988). The predictability of average behavior across many situations was again confirmed when researchers collected snippets of people’s daily experience via body-worn recording devices: Extraverts really do talk more (Mehl et al., 2006). (I [DM] have repeatedly vowed to cut back on my jabbering and joking during my noontime pickup basketball games with friends. Alas, moments later, the irrepressible chatterbox inevitably reoccupies my body. And I [ND] have a similar experience each time I try to stay quiet in taxis. Somehow, I always end up chatting with the driver!) As our best friends can verify, we do have genetically influenced personality

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traits. And those traits even lurk, report Samuel Gosling and his colleagues in a series of studies, in our

music preferences. Your playlist says a lot about your personality. Classical, jazz, blues, and folk music lovers tend to be open to experience and verbally intelligent. Extraverts tend to prefer upbeat and energetic music. Country, pop, and religious music lovers tend to be cheerful, outgoing, and conscientious (Langmeyer et al., 2012; Rentfrow & Gosling, 2003, 2006). online spaces. Is a personal website, social media profile, online avatar, or instant messaging account also a canvas for self-expression? Or is it an opportunity for people to present themselves in false or misleading ways? It’s more the former (Back et al., 2010; Fong & Mar, 2015; Gosling et al., 2007). Viewers quickly gain important clues to the creator’s extraversion, conscientiousness, and openness to experience. written communications. If you have ever felt you could detect others’ personality from their writing voice, you are right!! (What a cool, exciting finding!!!…if you know what we’re saying.) People’s ratings of others’ personality based solely on their e-mails, blogs, and Facebook posts correlate with actual personality scores on measures such as extraversion and neuroticism (Park et al., 2015; Pennebaker, 2011; Yarkoni, 2010). Extraverts, for example, use more adjectives.

In unfamiliar, formal situations—perhaps as a guest in the home of a person from another culture—our traits remain hidden as we carefully attend to social cues. In familiar, informal situations—just hanging out with friends—we feel less constrained, allowing our traits to emerge (Buss, 1989). In these informal situations, our expressive styles—our animation, manner of speaking, and gestures—are impressively consistent. Viewing “thin slices” of someone’s behavior—such as seeing a photo for a mere fraction of a second or seeing three, 2-second clips of a teacher in action—can tell us a lot about the person’s basic personality traits (Ambady, 2010; Rule et al., 2009).

To sum up, we can say that at any moment the immediate situation powerfully influences a person’s behavior. Social psychologists have learned that this is especially so when a “strong situation” makes clear demands (Cooper & Withey, 2009). We can better predict drivers’ behavior at traffic lights from knowing the color of the lights than from knowing the drivers’ personalities. Averaging our behavior across many occasions does, however, reveal distinct personality traits. Traits exist. We differ. And our differences matter.

Multiple-Choice Question

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Which of the following BEST describes the relationship between personality and behavior?

We can use personality traits to predict average behavior, but we cannot predict behavior in any given situation. Our behaviors are influenced by our personality traits and not by the situation or context. Personality traits may influence our actions, but they have no connection to our interests. We can use personality traits to predict only how we will act in a formal setting, not how we will act in casual settings with friends.

Correct. Behavior varies depending on the situation, but if you observe people’s b

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