Studying personality traits is important because they can predict essential consequences of everyday concerns such as health, occupational achievement, marital satisfaction, divorce, and even mortality (Ozer & Benet-Martinez, 2006; Roberts, Kuncel, Shiner, Caspi, & Goldberg, 2007 as cited by Roberts, 2009). One can then say that having a good grasp of personality traits can better someone’s life by shaping it up to produce good results. Roberts (2009) actually claimed that the goal of the parents is to teach their children to have personality traits—qualities that will help children no matter what situation they got themselves into.
Different definitions have been formed based on Allport’s theory. What was distinguishable amongst these is that the definition of personality trait has been found to have similarities with the social-cognitive approach to personality. Roberts (2009) summarized different definitions of personality traits given throughout history and came up with the following: “Personality traits are the relatively enduring patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that reflect the tendency to respond in certain ways under certain circumstances”. One can compare this definition to the Cognitive, Affective, Personality System, which states that the production of behavior eventually relies on the cognitive-affective organization and the situation it exists in (Mischel & Shoda, 1998 cited by Roberts, 2009). Both these definitions pinpoint that a consistent pattern of thinking, behaving, and feeling are dependent on its current situation.
The definition of personality trait and social-cognitive theory seems to be overlapping. But contemporary personality trait researchers believe that this is because the real definition of “personality trait” has not yet been fully and deeply defined. Its current definition only explains a part of it, and this part seems to point to the social-cognitive theory.
Modern theorists may also think that the social cognitive theory is only a part of the personality trait because other theories have also existed. The social cognitive theory claims for inconsistency. This is because the constant shifting of one’s feelings, thoughts, and understanding of circumstances have a big impact on behavior. However, the traditional trait theory, or perspective as some writers call it, explains the consistency of individuals in spite of different situational backgrounds, different time span, and varying behavioral content (Noftle & Gillath, 2009). This explains how the person-situation debate has come to existence.
Believers of the “person” side argue that the consistency of individual variations in feelings, reactions, and/or thoughts bring out the effects in the situation. Putting it simply, it is the person who caused the situation. On the other side of the argument, the “situation” group believes that the way people feel, react, and/or think are generally based on the current situation. This time, the situation caused the reaction of the person (Lucas, 2009).
Fleeson and Noftle (2009) proposed an idea that can help resolve the person-situation debate. They claim that the amount of consistency should be taken into consideration. In the “person” side, the element of personality was high enough to produce considerable consistency. This is because a person’s personality is already controlled by their behavior. The “situation” side has low consistency because it is the situation affecting the behavior. There are numerous different types of consistency and they are explained as “repeatable individual difference.” Consistency is a crucial key concept because it must be found to exist in a trait. Another reason is that the quantity of consistency indicates how strong the trait is. The more consistency there is, the more influential a trait becomes, the more it can determine behavior. The final reason why consistency is important to study is that the type of consistency can predict about a trait’s nature.
This debate is still not yet over because it still causes a negative affect among researchers (Lucas, 2009; Fleeson & Noftle, 2009). It would only be over when psychologists can talk about the issue without feeling any high levels of tension, and not because when psychologists say that it’s over. Note that this debate seems to be an argument mostly between personality psychologists and social psychologists.
What is crucial to keep in mind is that how the human thinks, feels, and behaves and how it relates to the situation are all very complex and cannot be limited to a box. Both the situation and human elements are crucial in how we live in this world. Thus, it would be hard for any intellectual to call himself a pure 100 percent “personist” or a pure 100 percent “situationist”. Maybe, most probably, we still don’t have all the information at hand. There is still much to learn, much to understand, much to prove, much to accept, that a conclusion cannot still be determined.
Fleeson, W. &Noftle, E. (2009). In favor of the synthetic resolution to the person–situation
debate. Journal of Research in Personality.43, 150–154.
Lucas, R. (2009). If the person–situation debate is really over, why does it still generate so much
negative affect?.Journal of Research in Personality.43, 146–149
Roberts, B. (2009). Back to the future: Personality and Assessment and personality development.