Wednesday, 27 November 2013

How everyday experiences shape personality

Some time ago, we asked the question what turns someone into a hero or a villain and we learned that situations matter and that there is nothing like a “good” or “bad” personality per se. These results can be generalised to the question: how stable is our personality? It seems that situations we experience at work on one day have quite an impact on how we describe ourselves the next day.

Timothy A. Judge from University of Notre Dame and University College London, Lauren S. Simon from Portland State University, Charlice Hurst from Western University, and Ken Kelley from University of Notre Dame studied personality and everyday experiences of 122 employees over a period of two weeks (ten working days). They had participants record their daily experiences at work and rate themselves on instruments assessing the Big Five personality traits (extraversion, neuroticism, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness to experience) at the end of each day.

The key findings were:

  • Individuals who displayed more citizenship behaviour (behaviours such as helping others or doing things that are not required but help the organisation) on one day described themselves as more extraverted, agreeable, and open the next day. I
  • Interpersonal conflict and neuroticism seemed to enforce each other, meaning that when someone experienced conflict on one day, scores on neuroticism were likely to be higher on the next day, but also when someone described him- or herself as neurotic one day, he or she was more likely to experience conflict the subsequent day.
  • Goal setting motivation enforced conscientiousness on the following day, but also conscientiousness strengthened goal setting motivation on the subsequent day.
  • Intrinsic motivation on one day positively predicted conscientiousness and openness on the following day, with openness and intrinsic motivation also being in a mutual relationship.
  • Conflicts in one day negatively affected openness and agreeableness on the next day in individuals that scored high on neuroticism. However, this was not the case for emotionally stable individuals.

The original article was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. There is an outline of the study on the BPS Occupational Digest blog.

The results do not mean that there is nothing stable in our personality. Rather, they imply that personality varies around a kind of certain set point. For some people, e.g. people scoring higher on neuroticism, this variation may be greater than for others. The research presented here, as the BPS Research Digest puts it, “helps us better understand virtuous cycles, where one good turn produces the state that can lead to another, and keeps us aware of the power of dynamics in a working environment”.

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