Person Situation Interaction

In time, however, Mischel (1973, 2004) came to see that people are not empty vessels with no enduring personality traits. He acknowledged that most people have some consistency hi then behavior, but he continued to insist that the situation has a powerful effect on behavior. Mischel's objection to the use of traits as predictors of behaviors rested not with their temporal instability but with then inconsistency from one situation to another. He saw that many basic dispositions can be stable over a long period of time. For example, a student may have a history of behig conscientious with regard to academic work but fail to be conscientious in cleaning his apartment or maintaining his car in working condition. His lack of conscientiousness in cleaning his apartment may be due to dishiterest, and his neglect of his car may be the result of insufficient knowledge. Thus, the specific situation hiteracts with the person's competencies, interests, goals, values, expectancies, and so forth to predict behavior. To Mischel, these views of traits or personal dispositions, though important hi predicthig human behavior, overlook the significance of the specific situation hi which people function.

Personal dispositions influence behavior only under certain conditions and in certain situations. This view suggests that behavior is not caused by global personal traits but by people's perceptions of themselves hi a particular situation. For example, a young man who typically is very shy around young women may behave in an outgohig, extraverted maimer when he is with men or with older women. Is this young man shy or is he extraverted? Mischel would say that he is both—depending on the conditions affecting the young man during a particular situation.

The conditional view holds that behavior is shaped by personal dispositions plus a person's specific cognitive and affective processes. Whereas trait theory would suggest that global dispositions predict behavior, Mischel argues that a person's beliefs, values, goals, cognitions, and feelings interact with those dispositions to shape behavior. For example, traditional trait theory suggests that people with the trait of conscientiousness will usually behave in a conscientious maimer. However, Mischel points out that in a variety of situations, a conscientious person may use conscientiousness along with other cognitive-affective processes to accomplish a specific outcome.

In an exploratory study to test this model, Jack Wright and Mischel (1988) interviewed 8- and 12-year-old children as well as adults and asked them to report everything they knew about "target" groups of children. Both adults and children recognized the variability of other people's behavior, but adults were more certain about the conditions under which particular behaviors would occur. Whereas children would hedge their descriptions hi such terms as "Carlo sometimes hits other kids," adults would be more specific: for example, "Carlo hits when provoked." These findings suggest that people readily recognize the interrelationship between situations and behavior and that they intuitively follow a conditional view of dispositions.

Neither the situation alone nor stable personality traits alone determine behavior. Rather, behavior is a product of both. Therefore, Mischel and Shoda have proposed a cognitive-affective personality system that attempts to reconcile these two approaches to predicting human behaviors.

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