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Walter Mischel on Personality Traits - Dictionary of Arguments

Corr I 46
Traits/Mischel: Mischel (1968)(1) revived [the] consistency debate (see > Consistency/Mischel) by more empirical evidence, proposing a ‘magic limit’ of .30 for what he called the ‘cross-situational consistency of behaviour’. His conclusion was that traits exist only in the eye of the observers but have no reality, because behaviour is so much situation-dependent.

1. Mischel, W. 1968. Personality and assessment. New York: Wiley

Jens B. Asendorpf, “Personality: Traits and situations”, in: Corr, Ph. J. & Matthews, G. (eds.) 2009. The Cambridge Handbook of Personality Psychology. New York: Cambridge University Press.

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Corr II 102
Personality Traits/Mischel/Eysenck, Michael W.: According to [Mischel], what happens very often in personality research and theorizing is as follows: ‘To invoke trait names as explanatory entities … confuses constructions about behaviour with the causes of behaviour’. Mischel is alleging that the entire trait approach is based on a circular argument and so lacks explanatory power (…).
Second, Mischel (1968)(1) was sceptical of the value of inferring personality traits on the basis of observers’ ratings of other individuals: ‘The conviction that highly generalised traits do exist may reflect in part (but not entirely) behavioural consistencies that are constructed by observers, rather than actual consistency in the subject’s behavior (…).
II 103
[Mischel 1968] was also skeptical of the value of self-reports, arguing that they can be inaccurate because of ‘a variety of distorting motivational forces, including deliberate faking, lack of insight and unconscious defensive reactions’ (p. 69)(1). The fourth major criticism made by Mischel (1968, pp. 9–10)(1) was based on the argument that support for the value of the trait-based approach ‘would require demonstrating that people do behave consistently across many diverse situations (…).
II 104
The fifth major criticism that Mischel (1968)(1) made of the trait approach was an extension of his fourth criticism (…). (…) he argued that this strongly implies that their behaviour is determined primarily by the specific nature of each situation.
II 107
VsMischel: (…) Mischel does not consider at all the possibility that individual differences in major personality traits or factors might be determined at least in part by genetic factors. Vukasović and Bratko (2015)(2) [found that] 39% of individual differences in extraversion were due to genetic factors, as were 42% of individual differences in neuroticism and 30% of those in psychoticism.
II 108
[Looking at Mischel’s second and third argument] it is clear that Mischel (1968)(1) expected little correspondence between self-report and rating data. [This can be refuted by looking at several studies, e.g. by Costa and McCrae (1988)(3)]. [They] carried out a study on married couples which included comparing self-reports and spouse ratings for three factors assessed by the NEO Personality Inventory: Neuroticism, Extraversion and Openness. Self-reports and ratings for neuroticism correlated +.54, and the correlations were +.60 and +.52 for extraversion and openness, respectively. These findings are most plausibly explained on the basis that the validity of raters’ judgements tends to increase with increased length of knowledge of the other person.
II 109
We now consider Mischel’s (1968)(1) fifth criticism discussed above by looking briefly at research that has compared the predictive power of individual differences in personality with situational differences. Sarason, Smith and Diener (1975)(4) calculated the percentage of the variance (differences in behaviour among individuals) accounted for by personality and by the situation across 138 experiments. On average, the situation accounted for 10.3% of the variance whereas personality accounted for 8.7% of the variance. Thus, behaviour was not determined substantially more by situational factors than by personality.

1. Mischel, W. (1968). Personality and assessment. London: Wiley.
2. Vukasović, T., & Bratko, D. (2015). Heritability of personality: A meta-analysis of behaviour genetic studies. Psychological Bulletin, 141, 769–785.
3. Costa, P. T., & McCrae, R. R. (1988). Personality in adulthood: A six-year longitudinal study of self-reports and spouse ratings on the NEO Personality Inventory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 853–863.
4. Sarason, I. G., Smith, R. E., & Diener, E. (1975). Personality research: Components of variance attributable to person and situation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 32, 199–204.

Eysenck, Michael W.: “The Challenge to Trait Theory Revisiting Mischel (1968)”, In: Philip J. Corr (Ed.) 2018. Personality and Individual Differences. Revisiting the classical studies. Singapore, Washington DC, Melbourne: Sage, pp. 101-114.

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.
Mischel, Walter
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 2021-05-12
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