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How has the behavioural consistency debate contributed to the understanding and assessment of personality?

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Introduction

How has the behavioural consistency debate contributed to the understanding and assessment of personality? Behavioural consistency may be defined as the similarity between a person's behaviour on two different occasions. Personality is assumed to explain behavioural consistency because it is assumed to be a major determinant of behaviour and, since personality remains relatively stable the behaviour it determines will be consistent. This essay explores the basis of the behavioural consistency debate, evaluating its contribution to the understanding and assessment of personality. The essay begins with a brief outline of the debate and then reviews the conceptual issue around consistency, providing evidence for and against each type of consistency. Following on from this the essay will discuss the implications the behavioural consistency debate has had on personality. Trait theorists stipulate stable patterns of behaviour are used to infer personality traits which, are subsequently used to explain and predict continuities and coherences in behaviour. The concept of consistency in behaviour is crucial to the trait approach in the sense that, if there is no consistency then there is no need to postulate internal factors and consequently no need for personality. The most damaging criticism of trait theories, if sustained, would be to undermine their basis in consistency. Walter Mischel's (1968) influential critique, Personality and Assessment, seemed to do so. Mischel challenged the notion of behavioural consistency and argued that the trait approach to personality is fundamentally flawed. ...read more.

Middle

Evidence on the development of moral thinking (Kohlberg, 1976), suggests that a trans-situational moral code resulting in consistent moral behaviour does not develop until at least adolescence. It is therefore not surprising that Hartshorne and May's study failed to demonstrate type B consistency. Mischel concluded that evidence for type B was far from convincing and that it is not as pervasive a phenomenon as personality theorists may have implied. For evidence concerning type C, Mischel drew on studies of the validity of personality ratings. These studies are assumed to describe the personality structure of the ratees. These studies are concerned with type C consistency in the sense that the rating scales constitute measures of different behaviours observed by the rater in the same or highly similar situations. Subsequent studies questioning the validity of observer ratings suggest that ratings actually reveal the constructs used by the observer in categorising another's behaviour rather than the personality structure of the person being rated (D'Andrade, 1965; Passini and Norman, 1966). This is a serious charge of personality ratings however Mischel overlooked the possibility that the raters' conceptual categories correspond with reality thus, there will be a similarity between these and the factor structure of personality ratings. Finally, Mischel considered the evidence for type D consistency. Personality theorists claim that behaviour in one situation can serve as an indicator for how the person will behave in another situation, and the utility of the trait theorists perspective depends on the success of this claim. ...read more.

Conclusion

Furthermore personality theorists argued that studies carried out in a laboratory are likely to find inconsistencies (Block, 1977) as this environment constrains variability and hence, depresses the correlation's. However, this argument is not applicable to the data Mischel reviewed. To summarise, there is evidence for and against behavioural consistency. Mischel was unsuccessful in completely undermining consistency although it is clearly evident behavioural consistency has been overstated by person approaches. Also, the defence of behavioural consistency is very post-hoc, with a reluctance to produce supportive evidence. Its apparent that situational factors contribute to consistency and for person approaches to be predictively useful it must certainly take situation into account. It's argued that the behavioural consistency debate has been fruitless, nevertheless a number of inferences may be drawn from it. Firstly, it is clear that an adequate theory of personality needs to account for both stability and change and that situation factors should not be ignored by person approaches. Secondly, much greater psychometric rigour is required, than previous na�ve single measures of a particular trait. Lastly, a 'psychology of situations' is required and as a situation is what a person perceives it to be, situationists must take the individual into account. In its contribution to personality the question of which is more important, person or situation, raised by the debate is meaningless. The real question is how do characteristics of the person interact with the characteristics of the situation? Thus, in search of an answer to this question, Interactionism evolved. ...read more.

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