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Personality is dynamic and it matters:
The role of personality dynamics in
applied contexts
Joanna Sosnowska
, Joeri Hofmans
, John Rauthmann
Bart Wille
Although the dynamic nature of personality has long
been acknowledged (Allport, 1937), research on per-
sonality dynamics has recently gained momentum
helped by the development of methodological and
statistical tools that allow examining not only how
people think, feel and behave in general but also
how they fluctuate in their thoughts, feelings and
behaviours over time and across situations. These
developments have led to an increased interest in per-
sonality dynamics as a perspective that can help to
understand personality structure, processes and func-
tioning (Hofmans et al., 2019; Kuper et al., 2021;
Rauthmann, 2021). This dynamic approach to per-
sonality might be useful not only in more fundamen-
tal but also applied research on individual differences.
Unfortunately, however, these two fields have devel-
oped rather independently in the past, leaving a gap
between fundamental and more applied personality
research. In this special issue, we seek to bridge this
gap, drawing on the conviction that applied research
can benefit from recent advances in basic personality
science and that basic personality science can benefit
at least as much from applied research as well.
This special issue of the European Journal of
Personality brings together 11 papers that showcase
not only how personality dynamics advance our
understanding of behaviours in applied settings but
also how applied research can advance our under-
standing of personality dynamics. Across those con-
tributions, three themes emerge: (1) within-person
variability and its role in applied contexts, (2) stability
and change in personality and its relationship to spe-
cific experiences and/or different contexts and (3)
methodological advances in the study of personality
dynamics in applied settings.
The first theme in this special issue focusses on an
important question: Does within-person variability
matter in applied contexts? Although personality
research in organisational and educational settings
has typically focussed on the predictive validity of
stable, between-person differences, several papers in
this special issue show that (1) there are substantial
within-person fluctuations in personality constructs
and (2) these fluctuations are relevant to the predic-
tion of various organisational and educational out-
comes. Looking at momentary changes in
personality states, Beckmann et al. (2021) reported
evidence of stable individual differences in state-
level variability in neuroticism and conscientiousness,
with such individual differences in state-level variabil-
ity being observed in both laboratory and field con-
ditions across time. Focussing on the predictive
power of within-person variability, Vossen and
Hofmans (2021) examined associations between
within-person variability in conscientiousness
and core self-evaluations on the one hand and
Organisational Citizenship Behaviours (OCB) and
Counterproductive Work Behaviours (CWB) on the
other, showing that high levels of within-person var-
iability might be a liability in a work context. Shifting
the focus from prediction to explanation, the study of
oci et al. (2021) looked at personality dynamics at
work through an interpersonal lens. Zooming in on
leader-follower dyads, they found that across repeat-
ed interactions, leaders’ and followers’ state core self-
evaluations fluctuate ‘in sync’. Finally, Brandt et al.
(2021) focussed on long-term changes in personality
traits rather than momentary fluctuations in person-
ality states. They demonstrated that, over a 20-year
period, the dynamic interplay between personality
and motivation predicted objective and subjective
occupational success.
The second important question that this addressed
by several papers in the special issue is how specific
Leadership and Management, Amsterdam Business School,
Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Work and Organizational Psychology, Vrije Universiteit Brussel,
Brussels, Belgium
Differential Psychology, Personality and Psychological Assessment,
at Bielefeld, Bielefeld, Germany
Industrial-Organizational Psychology, Ghent University, Ghent,
Corresponding author:
Joanna Sosnowska, Amsterdam Business School, University of
Amsterdam, Plantage Muidergracht 12, Amsterdam 1018 TV,
the Netherlands.
European Journal of Personality
2021, Vol. 35(4) 418–420
!The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/08902070211022491
experiences and different contexts affect stability and
change in personality-related constructs. The papers
by Etzel and Nagy (2021) and Hanna et al. (2021)
looked at the dynamic processes underlying person-
environment fit. Etzel and Nagy (2021) examined sta-
bility and change in vocational interest profiles and
congruence based on longitudinal sample of trainees
in vocational education and training. Similarly,
Hanna et al. (2021) looked at mechanisms that drive
changes in interest congruence in young adults during
the transition from education to workforce. Both
papers showed that interest congruence increased
over time as a result of occupational selection (e.g.,
vocational training, education and work during
young adulthood), rather than socialisation – over
time people’s jobs become more like them rather
than people becoming more like their jobs. Shifting
the focus to how specific life events impact personal-
ity development, Zimmermann et al. (2021) looked
into international student mobility (ISM).
Interestingly, they found that the effects of ISM
aligned with maturation patterns and that these
patterns could not be explained by previous ISM
experiences, sociodemographic characteristics or
anticipation effects. Finally, Nu
¨bold et al. (2021)
investigated the impact of a structured mindfulness
intervention on personality states at work. Their
results showed an increase in daily emotional stability
and agreeableness after the intervention, which, in
turn, had an impact on daily job satisfaction and
The last noteworthy theme in this special issue
pertains to methodological advances for studying per-
sonality dynamics. Rebele et al. (2021) proposed a
classification of behaviour-change problems based
on personality (i.e., short- vs. long-term processes,
dispositional vs. counter-dispositional). Their frame-
work explores how key concepts and findings from
the personality dynamics literature can inform the
design and implementation of behaviour-change
interventions. Lang et al. (2021), in turn, provided a
typology of basic conceptualisations of dynamic indi-
vidual differences (e.g., variability, transition, acceler-
ation). Of particular interest to applied researchers is
that – in addition to proposing a new conceptual
framework – the paper also provides several tutorials
on how to formally test these concepts using the R
language. Finally, the work of Abrahams et al. (2021)
also made an important methodological contribution
by examining the dynamics between self- and other-
rated situation characteristics, personality traits and
personality states in an educational setting. Their
innovative, multi-rater experience sampling design
can inform future studies on the processes underlying
person-situations dynamics. As a set, the different
papers in this special issue showcase a wide variety
of statistical techniques and models suitable for exam-
ining dynamics, including various forms of latent
growth models (Hanna et al., 2021; Brandt et al.
2021; Nu
¨bold et al., 2021; Zimmermann et al.,
2021), multilevel regression models (Abrahams
et al., 2021; D
oci et al., 2021) and indices of relative
variability (Vossen & Hofmans, 2021).
The purpose of this special issue is to encourage
both personality and applied researchers to consider
the relevance of the dynamics approach to personality
in applied settings. We are convinced that the articles
published in this issue provide diverse perspectives on
personality dynamics and processes in applied set-
tings and, by doing so, they advance our understand-
ing of how personality manifests and functions on a
fundamental level. We want to thank all contributing
authors (and the invited reviewers!) for their excellent
work, and we sincerely hope that their work opens up
new and exciting avenues to explore personality
dynamics in applied contexts.
Declaration of conflicting interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with
respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of
this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.
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Brandt, N. D., Israel, A., Becker, M., & Wagner, J. (2021).
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Contextually dynamic expressions of personality traits were examined in this study to understand their effects on work performance criteria. A concept of contextualized trait resources was developed to explain the dynamic deployment of traits across specific social contexts to deal with the demands that people face (e.g., work demands). A sample of 111 managers provided multiple contextualized ratings of the Big Five reflecting key social domains, and operationalized as role-identities and metaperceptions, and also participated in a 1-day assessment center (AC). Analyses showed that metaperceptions of the Big Five from the perspective of a work supervisor, and to a lesser extent metaperceptions averaged across contexts, predicted performance criteria at the AC after controlling for the effects of general ratings of the same traits. It was concluded that both the social domain, and specific interpersonal context of trait expressions are potentially informative in understanding the effects of contextually dynamic representations of personality. Implications for recruitment and selection are discussed. Practitioner points • Personality is increasingly conceptualized in research as a dynamic system. • Personality traits are examined as dynamic across contexts in the present study. • A new concept of contextualized trait resources is developed. • Metaperceptions of traits predict assessment centre performance after controlling for general ratings. • Criterion validities for personality traits may be improved by considering contextual dynamics.
Full-text available
The current study is concerned with the stability of and changes in vocational interest profiles and interest congruence in vocational education and training (VET). Specifically, we examined (1) the stability of vocational interest profiles, (2) the existence of occupational socialization effects that manifest themselves as increases in person-environment (P-E) congruence, and (3) the question of whether or not changes in P-E congruence are psychologically relevant because they are related to trainees’ attitudes towards their VET course. We used data from a three-wave longitudinal sample comprising N = 2611 trainees from five different VET courses in Germany. Through the use of meta-analytical aggregation techniques, we were able to analyze interindividual differences in intraindividual interest stability and P-E congruence and to relate these differences to trainees’ satisfaction with VET. On average, interest profiles turned out to be highly stable over the entire course of VET. However, we found substantial interindividual and intergroup differences in interest stability. Average P-E congruence increased slightly in two groups, providing only little evidence for the presumed socialization effects. Nevertheless, interindividual differences in P-E congruence and changes in P-E congruence were psychologically relevant because they were linked to trainees’ satisfaction with their VET course and changes therein.
Full-text available
The study aimed to investigate the status of within-person state variability in neuroticism and conscientiousness as individual differences constructs by exploring their (a) temporal stability, (b) cross-context consistency, (c) empirical links to selected antecedents, and (d) empirical links to longer-term trait variability. Employing a sample of professionals (N = 346) from Australian organizations, personality state data together with situation appraisals were collected using experience sampling methodology in field and repeatedly in lab-like settings. Data on personality traits, cognitive ability, and motivational mindsets were collected at baseline and after two years. Contingent (situation contingencies) and non-contingent (relative SD) state variability indices were relatively stable over time and across contexts. Only a small number of predictive effects of state variability were observed, and these differed across contexts. Cognitive ability appeared to be associated with state variability under lab-like conditions. There was limited evidence of links between short-term state and long-term trait variability, except for a small effect for neuroticism. Some evidence of positive manifold was found for non-contingent variability. Systematic efforts are required to further elucidate the complex pattern of results regarding the antecedents, correlates and outcomes of individual differences in state variability.
Full-text available
Theories of person-environment (P-E) fit describe a dynamic process in which fit should improve over time due to changes in a person’s attributes, the environment, or both. Although these ideas are central in several theoretical perspectives, they have largely gone untested. Here, we report a longitudinal examination of interest congruence (i.e., interest fit) across 12 years during the transition from education to the workforce. The study uses four methods to capture interest congruence and the drivers of fit change: growth models, latent congruence models, person and environment latent difference scores, and piecewise growth models based on environmental transitions. Each method uses a different lens to understand interest congruence in educational and work domains. Across methods, three results were typically found: (1) interest congruence improved over time in school and at work, (2) participants’ interests often predicted educational and work changes, and (3) participants’ interests rarely changed in response to their environment. These results support a dynamic conceptualization of fit and suggest that selection—rather than socialization—is the main mechanism through which individuals achieve better interest fit during young adulthood. Other implications are discussed for theory development and the applied use of interest assessments.
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When establishing a career in adulthood, two major socioemotional ingredients are expected to affect people’s success: how people act (personality) and what motivates them to act this way (motivation). However, little is known about whether and how personality and motivation change together and how their possible dynamic interplay predicts success. We investigated the roles that changes in personality and expectancy beliefs played in explaining occupational success in 4121 participants assessed after high school (Mage=22.80, SDage=0.70; 63% female) and about 20 years later. We used latent change models and moderated structural equation modeling to investigate correlated change and latent change interactions of personality and expectancy beliefs in predicting success. Results illustrated that besides being related in a nomological net, personality and expectancy beliefs also illustrated a strong interrelatedness in change across time. We found the clearest joint change dynamics between emotional stability, conscientiousness, self-concept, and self-efficacy. Changes in personality and expectancy beliefs were furthermore associated with objective and subjective occupational success. The results call for a more integrative view on personality-motivation dynamics across time for understanding the long-term adaptive ingredients of occupational success stories in adulthood.
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International student mobility (ISM) is an important educational means to promote the international (job market) potential of university students. Beyond that, it constitutes a context of personality development in young adulthood. With the present research, we tried to integrate the perspectives of applied and personality research in addressing the following questions. First, we scrutinized the robustness of ISM effects on personality development as we controlled for effects of sociodemographic characteristics and implemented a waiting group design ( N = 3070). Second, we explored ISM anticipation effects as well as the moderation of ISM effects by previous international mobility experiences. Finally, in view of the public discourse on the benefits of “Erasmus crowds”, we assessed the roles of international and host relationships with regard to the personality development of sojourners. The results largely corroborated the robustness of ISM effects on personality development. No ISM anticipation effects occurred, and effects of current ISM engagement were largely unaffected by previous international mobility experiences. Finally, international contact experiences were associated with personality development above and beyond effects of host country contacts. Implications for the understanding of personality development and potential inferences for the organization and improvement of ISM programs are discussed.
Research that helps people change their behavior has the potential to improve the quality of lives, but it is too often approached in a way that divorces behavior from the people who need to enact it. In this paper, we propose a personality-informed approach to classifying behavior-change problems and designing interventions to address them. In particular, we argue that interventions will be most effective when they target the appropriate psychological process given the disposition of the participant and the desired duration of change. Considering these dimensions can help to reveal the differences among common types of behavior-change problems, and it can guide decisions about what kinds of intervention solutions will most effectively solve them. We review key concepts and findings from the personality literature that can help us understand the dynamic nature of dispositions and to identify the psychological processes that best explain both short-term variance in behavior and long-term development of personality. Drawing on this literature, we argue that different types of behavior-change problems require different forms of “trait regulation,” and we offer a series of propositions to be evaluated as potential guides for the design of intervention strategies to address them.
In the last decade, organizational researchers have increasingly recognized the value of studying personality states at work. This line of research has to date mainly focused on outcomes of and situational antecedents of personality state change at work. In this study, we draw on social cognitive theory of self-regulation and the social investment principle to test if a structured intervention can bring about changes in employees’ personality states at work. Specifically, we investigate the effect of a four-week low-dose mindfulness intervention delivered via a mobile application on employees’ personality state change in a multi-group experiment with a passive and an active control group. Employees ( N = 162), either practicing mindfulness, doing brain training exercises, or not receiving any treatment were tracked in a diary study across a period of four weeks. Results of growth curve analyses showed that compared to the control groups, the mindfulness intervention led to significantly more increases in employees’ daily mindfulness, emotional stability and agreeableness across the four-week period. Furthermore, daily agreeableness and emotional stability mediated the effect of the intervention on daily job satisfaction and performance. No intervention effects were found for daily openness, conscientiousness, and extraversion. Implications are discussed for research and practice.
Based on a two-week daily diary study of 31 leader–follower dyads, this article demonstrates that within-person variation in the leader’s level of state core self-evaluations is associated with within-person variation in the follower’s level of state core self-evaluations. Moreover, we provide tentative evidence that this crossover effect might be mediated by transformational leadership behavior. Our study contributes to personality and leadership research by exploring within-leader, within-follower, and within-dyad personality processes. By showing that the personality states of leader and follower fluctuate in sync, we shed light on a new way in which leaders and followers connect.
Research on the effects of within-person personality variability has mainly focused on the consequences for subjective well-being. Drawing on a resource-based approach, we extend this field to the work domain, expecting that since deviating from one’s average trait level is resource intensive, it should relate negatively to behaviors that require the investment of additional resources, such as organizational citizenship behavior (OCB), while it should relate positively to behaviors that replenish one’s resources, such as counterproductive work behavior. Using two personality dimensions that are predictive for work-performance (conscientiousness and core self-evaluations), and a new variability index that is not confounded by the mean, we find an effect of personality variability on negative performance outcomes (counterproductive work behavior), while no relation is found with positive forms of extra-role performance (organizational citizenship behavior). These results were replicated across three separate experience sampling studies, confirming that, while within-person personality variability is related to performance, those relationships are relatively weak and they do not hold for every performance facet.
The situations people find themselves in and how they experience them is fundamental to a host of life and work outcomes. However, most research has so far only relied on self-reports and is thus not able to disentangle different situation components. The present study therefore examined the dynamics between self- and other-rated situation characteristics, personality traits, and personality states in an educational setting. One hundred and seventy-three student teachers ( n = 2244–2261 observations) and 94 supervisors ( n = 1110–1122 observations) participated in a 13- or 14-day experience sampling study during student teachers’ internships and rated situations and teachers’ personality states twice daily. Answering three research questions yielded that (1) self-rated traits were mostly not associated with self- or supervisor-rated situation characteristics; (2) self- and supervisor-rated situation characteristics predicted self- and supervisor-rated personality state expressions (although effects were largest for same-rater associations); and (3) there were no interaction effects of traits and situation characteristics on personality state expressions. These results have important theoretical and applied implications as they advance our understanding of person-situation dynamics in an applied setting and suggest that associations between situations and personality states are not solely attributable to common rater effects.