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TRAITS AND STATES AS CONSTRUCTS

The last chapter showed that responses are not stimulus-free; behavior is always affected by the context in which it is evoked, and an individual's behavior in even slightly different situations may not be very consistent. But even if an individual's behaviors are specific to the particular situation, and vary across related situations, they generally are construed or interpreted as if they were signs of a consistent personality. People credit their own inconsistent behaviors with basic congruity. When they abstract, interpret, or construe another person they also tend to attribute consistency to him ( Vernon, 1964). For many purposes, including the development of scientific theories, it is essential to construe underlying consistencies from heterogeneous events; sometimes, however, this process can also mislead the observer. The familiar "halo effect" in assessment is a common instance in which judges fail to discriminate between the diverse behaviors of the person being rated, and erroneously endow him with generalized characteristics that he does not show. This chapter deals with some of the issues that arise when people construe stable dispositions in others and in themselves.

The naive observer usually simplifies his observations, both about himself and about other people, by applying labels and constructs from a culturally shared trait theory. Even the simplest human behavioral sequences are readily interpreted as signs of generalized internal psychological states and attributes, and are construed as consistent motivated interpersonal actions.

Observers may even credit inanimate objects with human attributes and traits, and this tendency did not end with ancient animism.

-41-

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Personality and Assessment
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents ix
  • Introduction to the Republished Edition xiii
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - Consistency and Specificity in Behavior 13
  • 3 - Traits and States As Constructs 41
  • 4 - Personality Correlates 73
  • 5 - Utility 103
  • 6 - Principles of Social Behavior 149
  • 7 - Behavior Change 193
  • 8 - Assessment for Behavior Change 235
  • 9 - Personality and Prediction 281
  • References 303
  • Author Index 339
  • Subject Index 347
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