Personality Judgment: A Realistic Approach to Person Perception

“This is a book about accuracy in personality judgment. It presents theory and research concerning the circumstances under which and processes by which one person might make an accurate appraisal of the psychological characteristics of another person, or even of oneself.
Accuracy is a practical topic. Its improvement would have clear advantages for organizations, for clinical psychology, and for the lives of individuals.With accurate personality judgment, organizations would become more likely to hire the right people and place them in appropriate positions. Clinical psychologists would make more accurate judgments of their clients and so serve them better. Moreover, a tendency to misinterpret the interpersonal world is an important part of some psychological disorders. If we knew more about accurate interpersonal judgment, this knowledge might help people to correct the kinds of misjudgments that can cause problems. Most important of all, if individuals made more accurate judgments of personality they might do better at choosing friends, avoiding people who cannot be trusted, and understanding their interpersonal worlds (Nowicki & Mitchell, 1998). […] This is a book about how people make judgments of what each other is like, the degree to which these judgments achieve accuracy, and the factors that make accuracy in personality judgment more and less likely.”

I’m currently reading this book by David Funder. It’s quite interesting. Much of the book so far – and I’ve about read half of it at this point – has been dealing with how the different schools of research in this field historically have approached these matters, and the various ways they’ve tried to conceptualize central issues of interest (e.g. questions such as, ‘how do we establish when people are accurate? Which criteria do we apply?’). There’s been a good deal of focus on methodological issues and how to interpret results in various contexts, and less specific focus on ‘the actual results’ (though of course some of these have been reported as well). This emphasis on methodology probably means that some people may find this book a bit boring. I’m reasonably sure Funder will proceed to the more ‘meaty’ parts in the second half and I look forward to reading the rest of the book. I think I’m currently hovering around a 4 star evaluation on goodreads. There’s a lot of good stuff in here, including incidentally some observations that made it easier for me to realize why I disliked the CBT handbook as much as I did (it pointed out some specific problems with the approaches applied in that book (/line of research) that I had not been fully aware of).

I’ve added some more observations from the book below. A lot of good stuff didn’t make it into this post. If you want to know if, say, a policeman is more likely to figure out if someone is lying or not than some random person on the street, at least judging from the material covered so far this is not the book for you (though I know there are studies covering this type of stuff which you can find on google scholar). But it’s very interesting and I’m really liking it. One of the few problems with this book is that for a research book it’s rather old (1999), but given the topics covered so far this actually matters much less than you’d think. Incidentally if my comments at the top of this paragraph made you curious about these things, you may want to see this post covering the results of a recent rather large review of studies dealing with humans’ ability to spot liars – I’ve covered this stuff before here on the blog.

Observations from the book:

“many doors in life are opened or closed to you as a function of how your personality is perceived. Someone who thinks you are cold will not date you, someone who thinks you are uncooperative will not hire you, and someone who thinks you are dishonest will not lend you money. This will be the case regardless of how warm, cooperative, or honest you might really be. […] a long tradition of research on expectancy effects shows that to a small but important degree, people have a way of living up, or down, to the impressions others have of them. Children expected to improve their academic performance to some degree will do just that […], and young women expected to be warm and friendly tend to become so […] There is another important reason to care about what others think of us: They might be right. […] The people in your social world have observed your behavior and drawn conclusions about your personality and behavior, and they can therefore be an important source of feedback about the nature of your own personality and abilities. […] looking to the natural experts in our social world is a rational way to learn more about what we are really like.”

“There are vastly more active social than personality psychologists now doing research, more social psychology training programs, and more grant money for social psychology research. […] Perhaps the most obvious difference between modern social and personality psychology is that the former is based almost exclusively on experiments, whereas the latter is usually based on correlational studies. […] In summary, over the past 50 years social psychology has concentrated on the perceptual and cognitive processes of person perceivers, with scant attention to the persons being perceived. Personality psychology has had the reverse orientation, closely examining self-reports of individuals for indications of their personality traits, but rarely examining how these people actually come off in social interaction. […] individuals trained in either social or personality psychology are often more ignorant of the other field than they should be. Personality psychologists sometimes reveal an imperfect understanding of the concerns and methods of their social psychological brethren, and they in particular fail to comprehend the way in which so much of the self-report data they gather fails to overcome the skepticism of those trained in other methods. For their part, social psychologists are often unfamiliar with basic findings and concepts of personality psychology, misunderstand common statistics such as correlation coefficients and other measures of effect size, and are sometimes breathtakingly ignorant of basic psychometric principles. This is revealed, for example, when social psychologists, assuring themselves that they would not deign to measure any entity so fictitious as a trait, proceed to construct their own self-report scales to measure individual difference constructs called schemas or strategies or construals (never a trait). But they often fail to perform the most elementary analyses to confirm the internal consistency or the convergent and discriminant validity of their new measures, probably because they do not know that they should. […] an astonishing number of research articles currently published in major journals demonstrate a complete innocence of psychometric principles. Social psychologists and cognitive behaviorists who overtly eschew any sympathy with the dreaded concept of ‘‘trait’’ freely report the use of self-report assessment instruments of completely unknown and unexamined reliability, convergent validity, or discriminant validity. It is almost as if they believe that as long as the individual difference construct is called a ‘‘strategy,’’ ‘‘schema,’’ or ‘‘implicit theory,’’ then none of these concepts is relevant. But I suspect the real cause of the omission is that many investigators are unfamiliar with these basic concepts, because through no fault of their own they were never taught them.”

“Many studies over a period of several decades have shown that the impressions others have of your personality agree to an impressive extent both with each other and with your impression of yourself. […] recent research using sophisticated data analyses has shown that the consistent effect of the person is by far the largest factor in determining behavior, overwhelming more transient influences of situational variables or person-by-situation interactions […] correlations between personality and behavior are particularly high when the predictive target is aggregates or averages of behavior rather than single instances […] In everyday life what we usually wish to predict on the basis of our personality judgments are not single acts but aggregate trends. Will the person we are trying to judge make an agreeable friend, a reliable employee, or an affectionate spouse? Each of these important outcomes is defined not by a single act at a single time, but by an average of many behaviors over a diverse range of contexts. The classic Spearman-Brown formula shows how even seemingly small correlations with single acts can compound into high correlations with the average of many acts. For example, Mischel and Peake (1982) found that inter-item correlations among the single behaviors they measured were in the range of .14 to .21, but that the coefficient alpha for the average of the behaviors they measured was .74. That is, a similar aggregate of behaviors would be expected to correlate .74 with that one. In the same vein, Epstein and O’Brien (1985) reanalyzed several classical studies in the field of personality and found in each case that although behavior seemed situationally specific at the single-item level, it was quite consistent at the level of behavioral aggregates.” [I’m familiar with this stuff at this point, but I can’t remember to which extent I included stuff like this in my coverage of Leary & Hoyle so I decided to include these observations here; there are a lot of pages in L&H about these and related matters because this kind of stuff is really important in terms of how to measure variables and interpret coefficients in these fields.]

“To evaluate the degree to which a behavior is affected by a personality variable, the routine practice is to correlate a measure of behavior with a measure of personality. But how does one evaluate the degree to which behavior is affected by a situational variable? […] this question has received surprisingly little attention over the years. Where it has been addressed, the usual practice is rather strange: The power of situations is determined by subtraction. […] Of course, this is not a legitimate practice […] the two sides of the person-situation debate have in an important way been talking past each other for a couple of decades. For the cognitive behaviorists, significant differences in behavior across conditions has been taken as conclusive proof that behavior is situationally determined and otherwise inconsistent. For personality psychologists, the maintenance of individual differences in behavior across situations demonstrates the importance of stable aspects of personality for determining what people do. It turns out that these two conclusions are not in the least incompatible. […] Behavior in general changes with the situation, and the behavior of individuals is impressively consistent across situations. These statements are not incompatible; they are both true […] [and] some behaviors are more dependent on the situation than are others.”

“[One] aim of the heuristics-and-biases approach was to compile a vast catalog of the many different ways in which human judgment is faulty (Lopes, 1991). Surprisingly often, authors slid easily from describing heuristics as useful and even necessary components of human judgment under heavy cognitive load to characterizing them as woeful ways in which otherwise rational thinking too often goes astray. This is an important change of emphasis. […] The emphasis on mistakes […] had a deep and pervasive influence throughout psychology and even beyond. Over the 20-year reign of the error paradigm, a conventional wisdom became established that people were—not to put too fine a point on it—stupid. […] However, it might not necessarily be helpful to make one’s judgments while afflicted by the kind of self-doubt a reading of some researchers on error would inflict. […] Furthermore, some writers have noted that the heuristics-and-biases approach, as typically employed, has a direct and powerful implication that seems to be quite false. The implication is that if we could eliminate all heuristics, biases, and errors from our judgment, our judgments would become more accurate. In fact, the reverse seems to be the case. Researchers on artificial intelligence find they must build heuristics and biases into their programs to allow them to function at all in environments that have any degree of complexity or unpredictability—environments, in other words, like the real world […] For example, successful elimination of the ‘‘halo’’ effect has been shown to make judgments of real individuals less accurate […] This is probably because socially desirable traits really do tend to co-occur, making the inference of one such trait from the observation of another—the halo effect—a practice that ordinarily enhances accuracy […] Other heuristics have also been found to enhance accuracy”

“When the mythic age finally arrives when research has answered all our questions, it still might turn out that overattribution to the person is more common than overattribution to the situation. But already it is clear that both kinds of error exist, and both are important. Calling just one of them ‘‘fundamental’’ is probably unwise.” [he included a lot of stuff about this one, but I decided against covering all of that here]

“the first, most obvious, and perhaps most daunting difficulty in accuracy research is the criterion problem. To study the moderators and processes of accurate judgment, a researcher needs some sort of criterion for determining the degree to which a given judgment is right or wrong. […] methodological issues concern the techniques a researcher should use to assess and statistically analyze the two criteria for accuracy that are available. To make a long story (temporarily) short, these criteria are interjudge agreement and behavioral prediction. […] Error researchers employ what Hammond (1996) called ‘‘coherence’’ criteria. These criteria include the degree to which a judgment follows the prescriptions of one or another normative model of judgment […] Accuracy researchers employ ‘‘correspondence’’ criteria. Correspondence criteria include the degree to which a judgment matches or corresponds with one or more independent indicators of reality. […] Both criteria can be and sometimes are applied to the same judgment. For example, the process by which a weather forecaster makes his or her judgments might be compared to the inferential rules that were taught in meteorology school. If the process followed by the forecaster makes logical sense and follows the rules he or she was taught, the judgment passes the coherence criterion. Alternatively, if his or her judgment is that it will rain tomorrow, one can also wait and see if it actually rains. If it does, then the judgment passes the correspondence criterion. The difference between these criteria is interesting and important because a judgment deemed correct by one criterion may be incorrect according the other. […] In an ideal world, researchers interested in accuracy would use both. […] At present, however, the two criteria are employed by areas of research that are quite separate.”

“To interact successfully with someone you really need to know accurately only about those aspects of the person that are relevant to his or her behaviors in the environments you share […] a ‘‘circumscribed accuracy,’’ […] This approach is useful, but its implications are limited […] research seems to show, perhaps surprisingly, that circumscribed accuracy is no better and is sometimes worse than generalized accuracy […] For example, people are better at judging another person’s general degree of talkativeness than at judging how talkative he or she will be specifically with them”

“different judges of the same person tend to agree in their judgments, even after fairly brief acquaintance […] And two judges who rate each other generally do not describe each other as similar to themselves […] One of Kenny’s most important empirically based conclusions is that people agree with others about what they are like (self-other agreement) because both the target and the observer base their impressions on the same information, which is the target’s behavior. That is, you see what I do, and I also see what I do, and this why we agree about what I generally do and therefore what I am like. […] judges use stereotypes as an important basis for their judgment only when they have little information about the target. In this situation, it appears, judges fill in the missing information with general stereotypes or even […] their own self-description (which itself is a sort of stereotype if applied to the judgment of others; Hoch, 1987). When you know someone well you can base your judgments on what you have seen. When you have little information, you fall back on stereotypes and self-knowledge.”

March 14, 2014 - Posted by | books, Psychology

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