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Psychological Theories on Situations - Dictionary of Arguments

Corr I 32
Situations/Psychological Theories/Funder: A. Lexical approach. One of the earliest examples of the lexical approach to the study of situations was a study by Van Heck (1984), in which he combed the dictionary for words that could be used to fill in the blank, ‘being confronted with a . . . situation’. See Edwards and Templeton (2005)(1); by Yang, Read and Miller (2006)(2) applied the lexical approach to both Chinese idioms and their English translations.
B. Empirical approach: For example, Endler, Hunt and Rosenstein (1962)(3) used ‘stimulus-response’ questionnaires to ask participants, ‘how anxious would you be if . . .?’. Using this method, they discovered what they felt were three kinds of situations that caused anxiety: interpersonal situations, situations of inanimate danger (e.g., hurtling car, earthquake), and ambiguous situations.
Similarly, Fredericksen, Jensen and Beaton (1972)(4) analysed executives’ responses to a weekend in-basket exercise, resulting in a taxonomy of executive business situations with categories including evaluation of procedures, routine problems, interorganizational problems, personnel problems, policy issues and time conflicts. Along similar lines, Magnusson (1971)(5) asked students to list all the situations they had encountered during academic study, and then had all possible pairs rated for similarity.
Corr I 33
By visiting psychiatric wards, student residences and classrooms, Moos (1973)(6) was able to develop scales to measure what he called ‘perceived climate’ based upon psychosocial features. He found three broad dimensions he labelled ‘relationships’ (e.g., social support), ‘personal development’ (e.g., academic achievement) and ‘system maintenance/change’ (e.g., order and organization). Price and Bouffard (1974)(7) used student diaries but focused on physical location by categorizing situations based upon what they called ‘constraint’ – the number and kinds of behaviours that were considered appropriate within them.
Researchers have sometimes asked participants to describe their hypothetical feelings or behaviours in response to hypothetical situations: Forgas and Van Heck (1992)(8) used questionnaires to measure behavioural reactions in a series of situations (e.g., ‘you are going to meet a new date’) and were then able to allocate the variance in responses to persons, situations and interactions. Vansteelandt and Van Mechelen (1998)(9) asked people about their reactions (mostly hostile) to situations classified as ‘high frustrating’, ‘moderately frustrating’ and ‘low frustrating’.
Ten Berge and De Raad (2001)(10) posit that situations are only useful in that they render the understanding of traits less ambiguous, and thus asked students to write sentences explicating how traits might be expressed in certain situations.
Rather than asking participants to rate hypothetical situations, some investigators have asked them instead to generate their own; such as Forgas (1976)(11), who asked housewives and students to provide two descriptions each for every interaction they had experienced in the previous twenty-four hours. He found a two-dimensional episode structure for housewives (intimacy/involvement and self-confidence) and a three-dimensional structure for students (involvement, pleasantness and knowing how to behave). Pervin (1976)(12) used the free-response descriptions of his participants of situations they had experienced over the past year to create a taxonomy of daily situations.
Corr I 34
C. Theoretical approach. Krause (1970)(13) drew on sociological theory in an attempt to categorize situations on theoretical grounds. Based upon the way in which he posited that cultures assimilate novel situations into traditional, generic situations, Krause suggested seven classes, including joint working, fighting and playing, among others (a classification that guided the recovery of similar factors in the study by Van Heck (1984) cited above.) See >Situations/Asendorpf.


1. Edwards, J. A. and Templeton, A. 2005. The structure of perceived qualities of situations. European Journal of Social Psychology 35: 705–23
2. Yang, Y., Read, S. J. and Miller, L. C. 2006. A taxonomy of situations from Chinese idioms, Journal of Research in Personality 40: 750–78
3. Endler, N. S., Hunt, J. McV. and Rosenstein, A. J. 1962: An S-R inventory of anxiousness, Psychological Monographs 76: 1–33 (17, Whole No. 536)
4. Frederiksen N., Jensen O. and Beaton A. 1972. Prediction of organizational behaviour. New York: Pergammon
5. Magnusson, D. 1971. An analysis of situational dimensions, Perceptual and Motor Skills 32: 851–67
6. Moos, R. H. 1973. Conceptualizations of human environments, American Psychologist 28: 652–65
7. Price, R. H. and Bouffard, D. L. 1974. Behavioural appropriateness and situational constraint as dimensions of social behaviour, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 30: 579–86
8. Forgas, J. P. and Van Heck, G. L. 1992. The psychology of situations, in G. V. Caprara and G. L. Van Heck (eds.), Modern personality psychology: critical reviews and new directions, pp. 418–55. New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf
9. Vansteelandt, K. and Van Mechelen, I. 1998. Individual differences in situation-behaviour profiles: a triple typology model, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 75: 751–65
10. Ten Berge, M. A. and De Raad, B. 2001. Construction of a joint taxonomy of traits and situations, European Journal of Personality 15: 253–76
11. Forgas, J. P. 1976. The perception of social episodes: categorical and dimensional representations in two different social milieus, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 34: 199–209
12. Pervin, L. A. 1976. A free-response approach to the analysis of person-situation interaction, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 34: 465–74
13. Krause, M. S. 1970. Use of social situations for research purposes, American Psychologist 25: 748–53


Seth A Wagerman & David C. Funder, “Personality psychology of situations”, in: Corr, Ph. J. & Matthews, G. (eds.) 2009. The Cambridge Handbook of Personality Psychology. New York: Cambridge University Press.


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Psychological Theories
Corr I
Philip J. Corr
Gerald Matthews
The Cambridge Handbook of Personality Psychology New York 2009

Corr II
Philip J. Corr (Ed.)
Personality and Individual Differences - Revisiting the classical studies Singapore, Washington DC, Melbourne 2018


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Ed. Martin Schulz, access date 2021-06-18
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