The Person-Situation Controversy
B = f(PE)
B = behavior
f = is a function of
P = person variables
E = environment variables
Cattell’s Specification Equation:
B = f(w1T1 + w2T2 + wnTn)
-Direct Additive Model
-Assumes impact of the situation is the same on a given trait for all people
The Personologist Position
Stable, intraorganismic variables (traits, states) are the main determinants of behavioral variation
B = f(P)
The Situationist Position
Environmental or situational factors are the main determinants of behavioral variation
B = f(E)
The Interactionist Position
The interaction of person and situational factors is the main determinant of behavioral variation
B = f(P x E)
How to define environment?
The psychological environment is never the same for two individuals; this favors an interactionist view
The Debate: Is behavior consistent?
Across Time: Cross-temporal consistency
Across Situations: Cross-situational consistency
The Research Evidence: The Early studies
Hartshorne & May (1928, 1929, 1930)
Studies in the nature of character
-Average correlation among 23 tests used to construct a “total character score” was +.30
Jack Block’s Critique
Theodore Newcomb (1929)
-Found little evidence of consistency at behavior, trait or type levels
-Mean cross-situational correlation = +.19
-Highest correlation = .44
These three early studies led the assumption of consistency—and trait and state theories--to be seriously questioned.
The Research Evidence: The middle studies
-Coined term, “personality coefficient,” to indicate correlation of +.30 between any personality
measure and behavior
-Only intellectual and cognitive measures had higher predictive correlations
-Concluded behavior is specific to a particular situation, i.e., not consistent
Responses by Trait Theorists
-Phenotypic inconsistency does not relate to genotypic consistency
-Laboratory studies are too constraining to allow true personality—and consistency—to be expressed
-S. Epstein (1979, 1980, 1982, 1983): Like Allport, emphasized the concept of Aggregation.
Mischel’s Response to Epstein (Mischel & Peake, 1982)
-Aggregation increases measurement reliability but does not show cross-situational consistency
-Epstein found trivial relations among behaviors
-Aggregating cancels out the effects of situations
-Mischel argues we must understand situation effects
The Interactionist View
-Raush, Dittmann, & Taylor (1959)
-Endler & Hunt (1966, 1968)
Situation accounted for 6% of variance
Person accounted for 8-19% of variance
SxP accounted for 9-13% of variance
-Bowers reviewed 11 studies done since 1919 & found
Situation accounted for mean of 12.71%
Person accounted for mean of 10.17%
SxP accounted for mean of 20.77%
-R. Moos studied 9 hospital patients in 11 situations
-Different patients reacted differently to different settings at different times
-We must understand the patterns of stability and change for different individuals in different situations
-We must obtain many samples of behavior in real-life and laboratory situations
-We must more clearly define the units of the person and of the situation (what is important in the person and outside the person) and understand how they interact
Is the question settled?
Trait theorists say it is settled. There is consistency.
Mischel (and Shoda, 1999) proposed cognitive-affective personality system (CAPS)
Still emphasizing behavior is in response to environmental cues, but looking at the process
(1) There is considerable evidence for both person and situation determinants of behavior.
(2) Some people are more consistent than others: Bem & Snyder
(3) Some situations have more powerful influences than others in reducing or maximizing the role of
individual differences in personality.
(4) The amount of evidence for consistency or variability will depend on who is being studied, where
(laboratory vs. natural environment), the personality variables considered, and the measures being used.
(5) People observe their own behavior as well as that of others and develop theories to account for the