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Dynamic, Contextual Approaches to Studying Personality in the Social World

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Abstract

This special issue of Journal of Personality, composed of eight original articles, attends to the intersection of intrapersonal and interpersonal processes. Articles adopt a contextual approach to personality with attention to the need to belong (and the lack thereof), self-presentation concerns and styles, sexuality, curiosity, self-regulatory strength and strategies, and dynamic methodologies and analyses to study people within relationships. In this introduction, we offer challenges and aspirational goals for personality science. In particular, we discuss the importance of context when conceptualizing and studying personality, the seduction of innovative methodologies and analytic procedures, and the value of focusing on people and heterogeneity in groups instead of simply variables. We hope that this collection of articles deepens personality science and reminds readers that to truly understand human beings, they cannot be divorced from their social milieu.

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... This is the default level of analysis for the majority of work on psychological strengths. The second question refers to person-centric research, where the main interest is uncovering the profiles of people with particular life trajectories (Kashdan & McKnight, 2011). Considering the large number of qualities within a single person -biographical history, motivational states, personality traits, personal goals or strivings, and constructed life narratives -it seems odd how often psychological strength research tackles singular variables (McAdams & Pals, 2006). ...
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Much has been discovered about well-being since 1998, when positive psychology entered the lexicon. Among the wide range of areas in positive psychology, in this commentary we discuss recent discoveries on (1) distinctions between meaning in life, a sense of purpose, and happiness, (2) psychological or personality strengths and the benefits of particular combinations, and (3) resilience after exposure to adversity. We propose a series of questions about this literature with the hope that well-being researchers and practitioners continue to update their perspectives based on high-quality scientific findings and revise old views that rely on shaky empirical ground.
... If an organization is seen as a personality, the isolated analysis of identity characteristics alone will not have sufficient explanatory power. The context when conceptualizing and studying personality is of utmost importance (Kashdan and McKnight 2011). ...
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... As such, dispositional and contextualized measurements are likely to offer complementary information into an integrated supermatrix that would capture both the average tendency and the variability of perfectionism across multiple domains in individuals' lives. This measurement approach has already been successfully implemented to measure basic personality dimensions (Boone et al., 2012; Fleeson, 2001; Kashdan & McKnight, 2011). ...
Article
This study proposed an extension of the 2 × 2 model of perfectionism to assess the effect of four subtypes of perfectionism (i.e., pure self-oriented, mixed, pure socially prescribed, non-perfectionism) at the between-person and within-person levels of analysis. Sample comprised 338 students (80% female) aged between 16 and 48 years old (M = 19.03, SD = 3.46). Results of multilevel confirmatory factor analysis supported the factor structure of the measure across both levels of analysis, whereas multilevel modeling supported all four hypotheses of the 2 × 2 model across both levels of analysis for positively-laden variables (i.e., vitality, goal progress, positive affect), while yielding unexpected findings for negative affect and stress. These findings provide firsthand support for researchers interested in adopting a complementary analysis of dispositional perfectionism, while better informing researchers on the generalizability of the consequences associated with perfectionism in various domains.
... Specifically, particular personality trait profiles have shown links to healthy anger patterns-being an agreeable person may buffer the link between Neuroticism and aggressive responses to anger (e.g., Ode, Robinson, & Wilkowski, 2008), and being a conscientious person may buffer the link between Neuroticism and the ability to control the expression of anger (Pease & Lewis, 2015). Thus, future work might benefit by adopting a person-centric instead of a variable-centric approach, exploring the personality profiles with the strongest ties to the healthy and unhealthy experiences and manifestations of anger in daily life (a special issue of Journal of Personality has been devoted to this topic; Kashdan & McKnight, 2011). Additionally, almost all of the existing work on the Big Five personality traits and anger has been explored at the between-person level with global surveys. ...
Article
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... (e.g., Kashdan & McKnight, 2011. For a subset of people, bullying coincides with positive intrapersonal outcomes such as increased self-esteem (Olweus, 1993) and popularity (Rodkin, Farmer, Pearl, & Acker, 2006). ...
Article
Are all bullies unhappy and socially disconnected? The majority of theorists argue that bullies are a homogeneous group, such that their aggression is linked to less happiness and a greater probability of social exclusion. Recent findings, however, indicate some bullies obtain social benefits from the act of bullying, increasing their happiness. We sought to identify whether subgroups of bullies exist among 481 Chinese adolescents (mean age = 16.9, SD = 1.5) using self-report data on bullying, victimization, and various psychological and behavioral variables. Cluster analytic results identified four subgroups differentiated primarily by level of bullying, happiness, and perceived social connectedness. Subgroups included (1) happy, socially connected non-bullies (33.4%), (2) unhappy, socially disconnected non-bullies (26.9%), (3) unhappy, socially disconnected bullies (17.3%) and (4) happy, socially connected bullies (22.4%). These results suggest that, not only are some bullies happy and socially connected, but only a minority of bullies are unhappy and socially disconnected. Our findings offer unique insights into potential positive consequences of bullying that may differentiate subgroups of bullies. Such insights might inform existing and future anti-bullying interventions.
... Instead, some have argued that well-being emerges out of the dynamic interactions of people with their environments and contexts (e.g. Kashdan & McKnight, 2011). From this perspective, some people are more likely than other people to gain well-being when they encounter contextual factors, such as social interactions, hassles, or other life events (e.g. ...
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This study examined the interaction of the Thanksgiving holiday with gratitude in relation to well-being using a three-week long, daily diary design with a sample of 172 undergraduate students. Multilevel modeling revealed that without controlling for gratitude, people reported higher levels of positive affect on Thanksgiving holiday than during other days of the study. Reports of life satisfaction, meaning in life, and negative affect did not differ during the holiday. When within-person and between-person levels of gratitude were included, negative relationships were revealed between Thanksgiving and life satisfaction and positive affect. The results from this study sustain the argument that holidays impact people’s well-being depending on certain individual psychological characteristics. In the case of Thanksgiving, gratitude was critical for understanding whether the holiday appeared to positively or negatively influence life satisfaction and positive affect. The present study also supported an important role for gratitude in achieving and maintaining well-being.
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Sex is rarely discussed in theories of well-being and rarely empirically examined using methods other than cross-sectional surveys. In the present study, a daily diary approach was used (for 21 days with 152 adults) to explore the relationship between the presence and quality of sexual episodes and well-being (positive affect, negative affect, meaning in life). Time-lagged analyses demonstrated that sexual activity on 1 day was related to greater well-being the next. As for the quality of episodes, higher reported sexual pleasure and intimacy predicted greater positive affect and lower negative affect the following day. When the reverse direction was tested, well-being did not predict next-day sexual activity, pleasure, or intimacy. These results suggest a unidirectional relationship in which the presence and quality of sexual activity lead to gains in well-being the following day. Contextual moderators (gender, relationship status, relationship closeness, and relationship length) allowed for tests of conditions altering the link between sexuality and well-being. Relationship closeness was the most robust moderator in predicting greater levels of meaning in life and positive affect following sexual episodes. These data provide evidence to support the continual consideration of sex in empirical work and theoretical models of elements that comprise healthy relationships and a good life.
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The goal of psychology is to discover the scientifically viable constructs or categories that will characterize what is variant and invariant in the working of the human mind. In this paper, I outline the idea for one such construct—valenced core affect. I first introduce the idea that valence is a basic, invariant building block of emotional life that derives from the human mind’s capacity to engage in the process of valuation (or judging whether something is helpful or harmful). I then review evidence to show that valence is a variant property of emotional responding, in that people differ from one another in the degree to which they focus on valence. Finally, I discuss the possibility that valence focus is not a property of the person that can be meaningfully separated from the psychological situation.
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Traditionally, positive emotions and thoughts, strengths, and the satisfaction of basic psychological needs for belonging, competence, and autonomy have been seen as the cornerstones of psychological health. Without disputing their importance, these foci fail to capture many of the fluctuating, conflicting forces that are readily apparent when people navigate the environment and social world. In this paper, we review literature to offer evidence for the prominence of psychological flexibility in understanding psychological health. Thus far, the importance of psychological flexibility has been obscured by the isolation and disconnection of research conducted on this topic. Psychological flexibility spans a wide range of human abilities to: recognize and adapt to various situational demands; shift mindsets or behavioral repertoires when these strategies compromise personal or social functioning; maintain balance among important life domains; and be aware, open, and committed to behaviors that are congruent with deeply held values. In many forms of psychopathology, these flexibility processes are absent. In hopes of creating a more coherent understanding, we synthesize work in emotion regulation, mindfulness and acceptance, social and personality psychology, and neuropsychology. Basic research findings provide insight into the nature, correlates, and consequences of psychological flexibility and applied research provides details on promising interventions. Throughout, we emphasize dynamic approaches that might capture this fluid construct in the real-world.
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Experience-sampling studies are used to study the emotional component of subjective well-being (hedonic balance). This manuscript examines conceptual and methodological issues in the measurement of hedonic balance, and it relates aspects of affective experiences (frequency, intensity, and duration) to affective dispositions (extraversion, neuroticism) and life-satisfaction. Aggregates of experience-sampling data are influenced by response styles, but the effect is negligible. Pleasant affects and unpleasant affects show high discriminant validity. Extraversion is more highly related to aspects of pleasant affects than unpleasant affects, and neuroticism is more highly related to aspects of unpleasant affects than pleasant affects. Mean levels (i.e., frequency * intensity) of affects are the aspects that best predict life-satisfaction. The specific item happiness is a better predictor of life-satisfaction than the average of all pleasant affects.
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Consistency and stability of feelings were examined in reports that were completed on 3,512 occasions randomly sampled from the lives of 42 subjects. The stability and consistency of responses depended on the situations, individuals, and responses involved. High degrees of consistency were unusual for single responses, although mean levels of responding tended to be both highly stable and consistent. The consistency and stability of variables covaried, suggesting a connective between the two. Persons who were more consistent across one pair of situations tended to be more consistent across other situational pairs. The results indicate that the question of whether personality consistency exists does not have a simple answer, and requires knowledge of the persons, situations, responses, and level of analysis involved.
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Developments in personality-social psychology, in social cognition, and in cognitive neuroscience have led to an emerging conception of personality dynamics and dispositions that builds on diverse contributions from the past three decades. Recent findings demonstrating a previously neglected but basic type of personality stability allow a reconceptualization of classic issues in personality and social psychology. It reconstrues the nature and role of situations and links contextually sensitive processing dynamics to stable dispositions. It thus facilitates the reconciliation within a unitary framework of dispositional (trait) and processing (social cognitive-affective-dynamic) approaches that have long been separated. Given their history, however, the realization of this promise remains to be seen.
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Three experience-sampling studies explored the distributions of Big-Five-relevant states (behavior) across 2 to 3 weeks of everyday life. Within-person variability was high, such that the typical individual regularly and routinely manifested nearly all levels of all traits in his or her everyday behavior. Second, individual differences in central tendencies of behavioral distributions were almost perfectly stable. Third, amount of behavioral variability (and skew and kurtosis) were revealed as stable individual differences. Finally, amount of within-person variability in extraversion was shown to reflect individual differences in reactivity to extraversion-relevant situational cues. Thus, decontextualized and noncontingent Big-Five content is highly useful for descriptions of individuals' density distributions as wholes. Simultaneously, contextualized and contingent personality units (e.g., conditional traits, goals) are needed for describing the considerable within-person variation.
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This chapter reviews theory and research on intraindividual personality structures and processes. Principles for modeling the architecture of personality, that is, the overall design and operating characteristics of intraindividual personality systems, are addressed. Research demonstrates that a focus on within-person structures and processes advances the understanding of two aspects of personality coherence: the functional relations among distinct elements of personality, and cross-situational coherence in personality functioning that results from interactions among enduring knowledge structures and dynamic appraisal processes. Also reviewed are recent conceptual and empirical advances, which demonstrate that the interindividual personality variables that summarize variability in the population are wholly insufficient for modeling intraindividual personality architecture.
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The current longitudinal study examined the consequences of spouses' tendencies to forgive their partners over the first 2 years of 72 new marriages. Though positive main effects between forgiveness and marital outcomes emerged cross-sectionally, spouses' tendencies to forgive their partners interacted with the frequency of those partners' negative verbal behaviors to predict changes in marital outcomes longitudinally. Specifically, whereas spouses married to partners who rarely behaved negatively tended to remain more satisfied over time to the extent that they were more forgiving, spouses married to partners who frequently behaved negatively tended to experience steeper declines in satisfaction to the extent that they were more forgiving. Similar patterns emerged for changes in the severity of husbands' problems, such that husbands married to wives who frequently behaved negatively reported sharper increases in problem severity to the extent that they were more forgiving but reported more stable problem severity to the extent that they were less forgiving. These findings question whether all spouses should benefit from forgiveness interventions and thus highlight the need for further research on the most appropriate targets for such interventions.
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The present research tested relations between extraversion and emergent leadership among men in situations that differed in potential reward availability. Four-person groups of men engaged in a Leaderless Group Discussion (LGD) task and were randomly assigned to be evaluated by an attractive female observer, an attractive male observer, or not be evaluated. Evolutionary theories suggest that impressing a female evaluator in an intrasexually competitive situation should hold greater reward potential for men than impressing either a male evaluator or no evaluator. Accordingly, more extraverted men (who are more sensitive to reward cues) should display more group leadership when being evaluated by a woman than either a man or no one. Self-and peer ratings confirmed that more extraverted men were significantly more likely to emerge as leaders, but only in the female-evaluator condition. The results are discussed in terms of the interplay between personality, situational factors, and evolutionary principles.
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