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Corr I 50
Situations/Psychology/Asendorpf: The definition of situations is a tricky question (Vansteenlandt and Van Mechelen 1998)(1). A useful distinction is made in ecological psychology between a setting of a person that is defined completely by an observer (e.g., ‘Fritz is together with his mother’), and a subjective situation that is partly defined by the person (e.g., ‘Fritz is together with his friend Hans’) (Barker 1968)(2). Whether Hans is a friend of Fritz can ultimately be decided not by observers but only by Fritz himself. This person-dependency of the situational definition opens the door for personality influences on the very definition of a situation.
For example, Sarason, Shearin, Pierce and Sarason (1987)(3) studied the correlation between self-reported loneliness and self-reported quantity and quality of social relationships. Loneliness correlated −.28 with the number of relationships, −.53 with the number of supportive relationships, and −.63 with satisfaction with the support of others. The more subjective the definition of the relationship quality, the higher the negative correlation with loneliness. Even the correlation of −.28 with the number of relationships is confounded with an effect of loneliness on the definition of what a relationship is.
Researchers can disentangle personality effects from situational effects in two main ways.
A. First, they can restrict their analyses to settings that are completely defined by observers. E. g. work (Diener and Larsen 1984)(4), (Gosling, Ko, Mannarelli and Morris 2002(5)).
Corr I 51
B. Alternatively, researchers can define a situation by aggregating the subjective situation perception across all actors in the situation. See the SRM model by Kenny and colleagues: >Interaction/Kenny.
It requires that each situation is judged by many actors such that the influence of each judge’s personality is minimized.
Traits and situations: there are three main possibilities:
a) people tend to actively select (approach or avoid) situations according to their personality
b) people passively evoke situations by their personality
c) people manipulate (actively change or even create) situations by their personality
d) situational exposure can affect personality traits over the long run.(Asendorpf and Wilpers 1998(6); Lytton 1990(7)),


1. Vansteenlandt, K. and Van, Mechelen I. 1998. Individual differences in situation-behaviour profiles: a triple typology model, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 75: 751–65
2. Barker, R. G. 1968. Ecological psychology: concepts and methods for studying the environment of human behaviour. Stanford University Press
3. Sarason, B. R., Shearin, E. N., Pierce, G. R. and Sarason, I. G. 1987. Interrelations of social support measures: theoretical and practical implications, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 52: 813–32
4. Diener, E. and Larsen, R. J. 1984. Temporal stability and cross-situational consistency of affective, behavioural, and cognitive responses, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 47: 871–83
5. Gosling, S. D., Ko, S. J., Mannarelli, T. and Morris, M. E. 2002. A room with a cue: personality judgments based on offices and bedrooms, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 82: 379–98
6. Asendorpf, J. B. and Wilpers, S. 1998. Personality effects on social relationships, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 74: 1531–44
7. Lytton, H. 1990. Child and parent effects in boys’ conduct disorder: a reinterpretation, Developmental Psychology 26: 683–97


Jens B. Asendorpf, “Personality: Traits and situations”, in: Corr, Ph. J. & Matthews, G. (eds.) 2009. The Cambridge Handbook of Personality Psychology. New York: Cambridge University Press.


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution.
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Asendorpf, Jens B.
Corr I
Philip J. Corr
Gerald Matthews
The Cambridge Handbook of Personality Psychology New York 2009


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Ed. Martin Schulz, access date 2019-02-17
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