by Andrew Weinert, Kenyon ’17
Members of the human race generally can look and feel very similar across continents relative to other creatures on our planet, but what makes people unique and different from other creatures, and more importantly, different from each other, would be our personalities. All human beings may look relatively similar, but we do not all behave in the same way.
Rauthmann and his colleagues have found that personality traits across people will predict the situations that these people experience. People are generally not found in situations where their personality traits do not agree. These results are not as difficult to find as one may think. Data was simply gathered from people who experienced a situation, and were personally involved and affected, along with people who did not experience a situation, and were not personally involved or affected. The people who did not experience a situation were able to learn about the situation through verbal descriptions, pictures, or video clips. The results of the two separate groups were then correlated to see if those involved versus those not involved had similar responses.
When Rauthmann and his colleagues decided to take this project on, previous research had only asked people to report on their own situations they encountered, which is total subjectivity meaning that the objective aspects of the situation could not be gathered. This previous research also came before advancements in the ability to examine situations had been discovered. At this time, Allport (1961) had reported “most people do a good deal to create the situation to which they respond…so that the situations we find ourselves in are often the direct product of our previous personalities.” The prevailing theory during the time of previous research was in fact that people are looking to encounter situations that are consistent with their personalities, which is consistent to what the theory is now. However, now the results are much more reliable due to multiple objective raters of the person’s personality being associated with the encountered situations (also objectively).
It is now time to get into the Big Five personality traits (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) and which situations people high in these traits tend to find themselves in.
First we will begin with openness, which includes deep consciousness, rich experience, innovation, creativity, and intellect. People who are high in this trait tend to find themselves in situations where cognitive-intellectual activities are taking place. It is interesting to note, however, that those high in openness may perceive their situations as intellectual rather than actually come in contact with an intellectual situation.
Next comes conscientiousness, which includes people who are efficient, organized, and thorough. If you are someone who is high in conscientiousness – as in actively striving toward goals and performance – you will much of the time find yourself in dutiful, work-type situations.
After conscientiousness comes extraversion, which includes someone who is outgoing, talkative, and displays energetic behavior. If you are someone who is high in extraversion, according to this study you are someone who is much of the time in contact with adverse situations, like that of competition and assertiveness. Extraversion is positively associated with dominance and as I’m sure we all know, more dominant people tend to find themselves in adverse situations. On the more social side of this trait, people high in extraversion also found themselves to come in contact with more sexual situations, which predicts that those high in extraversion are more likely to take part in mate approach.
Next come agreeableness, which includes someone who is kind, sympathetic, cooperative, and considerate. If you are someone who is high in agreeableness, you will likely find yourself in situations that are less antagonistic and competitive in nature and more on the warm and pleasurable side.
Last but not least (possibly least) comes neuroticism, which includes anxiety, moodiness, envy, jealousy, and loneliness. This particular study gives us partial evidence that people high in neuroticism may come in contact with more actual negative situations, but gives us full evidence that those high in neuroticism absolutely perceive their situations as less positive.
Overall, this study was well done and reliable, and in accordance with previous research findings. However, there is a relatively large limitation; it is not very clear how the people came to be in the situations they reported. For instance, were these situations imposed on the people and if so, was this part of the person’s personality? Did the people somehow influence the situation to be in line with their personalities? And finally, did the people even select these situations they were apart of? If they did not, it may simply be luck that the situations were positively associated with the personalities.
Rauthmann and his colleagues may be looking to answer the aforementioned questions, but in the mean time they deserve a break, as this study was published on February 11th, 2015, much too recent to be starting a new study. With that said, the results of this study are very significant to Personality Psychology and better explain how ones personality is more significant than situation (person-situation debate).
Allport, G. (1961). Pattern and growth in personality. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
Rauthmann, J., Sherman, R., Nave, C., & Funder, D. (2015). Personality-driven situation experience, contact, and construal: How people’s personality traits predict characteristics of their situations in daily life. Journal of Research in Personality, 55, 98-111.