Situation Variables

Mischel believes that the relative influence of situation variables and personal qualities can be determined by observing the uniformity or diversity of people's responses in a given situation. When different people are behaving in a very similar maimer—for example, while watching an emotional scene in an engrossing movie— situation variables are more powerful than personal characteristics. On the other hand events that appear the same may produce widely different reactions because personal qualities override situational ones. For example, several workers may all be laid off from then jobs, but individual differences will lead to diverse behaviors, depending on the workers' perceived need to work, confidence hi then level of skill, and perceived ability to find another job.

Early hi his career, Mischel conducted studies demonstrating that the interaction between the situation and various personal qualities was an important determinant of behavior, hi one study, for example, Mischel and Ervin Staub (1965) looked at conditions that influenced a person's choice of a reward and found that both the situation and an individual's expectancy for success were important. These investigators first asked 8th-grade boys to rate then expectancies for success on verbal reasoning and general information tasks. Later, after the students worked on a series of problems, some were told that they had succeeded on those problems; some were in-

FIGURE 17.2 Model used by Mischel and Staub (1965).

formed that they had failed; and the third group received no information. The boys were then asked to choose between an immediate, less valuable, noncontingent reward and a delayed more valuable, contingent reward. Consistent with Mischels interaction theory, students who had been told that they had succeeded on the earlier similar task were more likely to wait for the more valued reward that was contingent on their performance; those who were informed that they had previously failed tended to choose an immediate, less valuable reward; and those who had received no earlier feedback made choices based on their original expectancies for success; that is, students hi the no-information group who originally had high expectancies for success made choices similar to those who believed that they were successful, whereas those who originally had low expectancies for success made choices similar to those who believed that they had failed. Figure 17.2 shows how situational feedback interacts with expectancy for success to influence choice of rewards.

Mischel and his associates have also shown that children can use their cognitive processes to change a difficult situation into an easier one. For example, Mischel and Ebbe B. Ebbesen (1970) found that some children were able to use then cognitive ability to change an unpleasant wait for a treat into a more pleasant situation. In this delay-of-gratification study, nursery school children were told that they would receive a small reward after a short period of time, but a larger treat if they could wait longer. Children who thought about the treat had difficulty waiting, whereas children who were able to wait the longest used a variety of self-distractions to avoid thinking about the reward. They looked away from the treat, closed then eyes, or sang songs hi order to change the aversive waiting situation into a more pleasant one. These and other research results led Mischel to conclude that both the situation and various cognitive-affective components of personality play a role in determining behavior.

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