Social-Cognitive Theory of Person...
Social-Cognitive Theory of Personality Assessment Daniel Cervone Department of Psychology University of Illinois at Chicago William G. Shadel Center for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine Brown University Simon Jencius Department of Psychology University of Vienna This article presents a social-cognitive theory of personality assessment. We articulate the implications of social���cognitive theories of personality for the question of what constitutes an assessment of personality structure and behavioral dispositions. The theory consists of 5 social-cognitive principles of assessment. Personality assessments should (a) distin- guish the task of assessing internal personality structures and dynamics from that of as- sessing overt behavioral tendencies, (b) attend to personality systems that function as per- sonal determinants of action, (c) treat measures of separate psychological and physiological systems as conceptually distinct, (d) employ assessments that are sensitive to the unique qualities of the individual, and (e) assess persons in context. These principles are illustrated through a review of recent research. Social-cognitive theory is distinguished from an alternative theory of personality structure and assessment, 5-factor theory, by ar- ticulating the strategies of scientific explanation, conceptions of personality structure and dispositions, and the assessment practices that differentiate the approaches. What is ���personality assessment���? How should one assess the psychological qualities that constitute the core of personality? Our goal in this article is to organize into a coherent theoretical framework the answers to these questions that derive from social-cognitive theory (see Cervone & Shoda, 1999b). Although others have addressed the im- plications of social-cognitive theory for personality as- sessment either directly (Bandura, 1997 Cantor & Kihlstrom, 1987, 1989) or indirectly in the course of conducting empirical research, broad statements of the implications of social-cognitive theory for personality assessment are generally lacking. Indeed, some have seen this shortcoming as the ���Achilles heel��� (Emmons & King, 1989, p. 112) of the social-cognitive approach to personality (also see Carver & Scheier, 1989). In advancing a social-cognitive theory of personal- ity assessment, this article is guided by the following premise. To answer questions about personality assess- ment, one needs a personality theory. Theory inevita- bly guides judgments about what one should assess and how one should assess it. Theoretical consider- ations thus dictate answers to the question of what qualifies as a personality assessment. If one���s theory says that personality functioning rests on unconscious structures and the dynamics of mental energy (Freud, 1923/1961), then personality assessments must target these structures and dynamics in a manner that is sensi- tive to material that lies outside of consciousness. If one���s theory says that personality functioning reflects the personal narratives that individuals construct over the course of life (McAdams, 1996b Tomkins, 1979), then the only procedures that qualify as comprehensive personality assessments are ones that assess life sto- ries. A theory of personality, then, contains not only a theory of persons but (at least implicitly) a theory of personality assessment, that is, a set of beliefs about the internal psychological structures and overt behav- 33 Personality and Social Psychology Review Copyright �� 2001 by 2001, Vol. 5, No. 1, 33���51 Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. Work on this article was partly supported by National Cancer In- stitute Grant CA���81291. We thank Gian Vittorio Caprara, Heather Orom, Nilly Rafaeli-Mor, Walter D. Scott, and Yuichi Shoda for their comments and suggestions on this work. Requests for reprints should be sent to Daniel Cervone, Depart- ment of Psychology, MC 285, University of Illinois at Chicago, 1007 West Harrison Street, Chicago, IL 60607���7137. E-mail: dcervone@ uic.edu William_Shadel@brown.edu and Simon_Jencius@ hotmail.com
ioral tendencies that must be measured in an assess- ment of personality and the procedures that are re- quired to measure them. To a greater degree than is commonly acknowledged, personality theory and per- sonality assessment are intertwined (Caprara & Cervone, in press-b).1 To begin, we outline the main features of so- cial-cognitive theory. In so doing, we draw heavily on previous work in the social-cognitive tradition (re- viewed in Cervone & Shoda, 1999b) we are guided in particular by the social-cognitive theory of Bandura (1986, 1999) and also the cognitive-affective system theory of Mischel and Shoda (1995). Our goal is to show how social-cognitive approaches yield a coherent view of personality assessment that differs signifi- cantly from alternative perspectives in the field. To fully articulate this point, we contrast social-cognitive theory with an alternative perspective, namely, that of the five-factor theory (McCrae & Costa, 1999) we consider five-factor theory because of its current prom- inence and because five-factor theorists themselves judge that relating trait and social-cognitive ap- proaches is ���one of the major tasks of a new generation of personality theories��� (McCrae & Costa, 1996, p. 59). We then outline five principles that constitute a so- cial-cognitive theory of personality assessment. We il- lustrate these principles by reporting the procedures and findings of three recent research programs that show how the principles can be put into practice. Our goal is to outline general principles of assess- ment rather than to specify particular methods de- signed to solve specific assessment problems. We hope that an outline of theoretical principles will serve as a useful guide to future applications personality assess- ment surely is a domain in which, as the timeworn phrase instructs, there is nothing more practical than a good theory. The research that we review and cite pro- vides numerous examples of the practical application of the general principles. Social-Cognitive Theory of Personality Social-cognitive theories of personality have three defining features. The first is the principle of reciprocal interactionism, or ���reciprocal determinism��� (Bandura, 1978). Persons and social settings are viewed as recipro- cally interacting systems. Sociocultural environments contribute to the development of personality structures. Personality factors, in turn, partly determine which en- vironments people experience and how they interpret the sociocultural settings they encounter. Although the study of reciprocal influence pro- cesses is defining of social-cognitive theory, it is not unique to it. Numerous theories of personality develop- ment and functioning recognize that individuals de- velop through reciprocal person���situation interactions in which people agentically contribute to their devel- opment (e.g., Baltes, Lindenberger, & Staudinger, 1998 Lerner & Busch-Rossnagel, 1981 Magnusson & Stattin, 1998 Snyder, 1981 Valsiner, 1998). Indeed, Lewontin (2000) has compellingly argued that recipro- cal transactions between organisms and the environ- ment are a basic feature of biological life. The second defining feature of social-cognitive the- ory is the units of analysis through which it conceptual- izes personality functioning and differences among individuals. Personality is understood by reference to basic cognitive and affective structures and processes. These personality variables have social foundations (Baltes & Staudinger, 1996 Bandura, 1986 Levine, Resnick, & Higgins, 1993), that is, they develop through experiences with one���s sociocultural environ- ment. They thus are labeled social-cognitive. So- cial-cognitive theory differentiates among a number of distinct cognitive capacities that contribute to person- ality functioning (Bandura, 1986). These include cog- nitive mechanisms that underlie skills and social competencies, knowledge structures through which people interpret or ���encode��� situations, self-reflective processes through which people develop beliefs about themselves and their relation to the social environment, and self-regulatory processes through which people es- tablish personal goals and standards for performance and motivate themselves to reach desired ends (see Bandura, 1986, 1999 Caprara & Cervone, 2000 Cervone & Williams, 1992 Mischel, 1973 Mischel & Shoda, 1995, 1998). Although these are cognitive mechanisms, the social-cognitive approach is not a ���cold��� cognitive theory. Social-cognitivists recognize that cognitive and affective processes are closely linked and that a central feature of personality func- tioning is the deployment of cognitive strategies to reg- ulate affective states (e.g., Metcalfe & Mischel, 1999). In differentiating among the psychological mechanisms that constitute the basic units of analy- sis of social-cognitive theory, we find it useful to distinguish between knowledge and appraisal pro- cesses (Lazarus, 1991 Smith & Lazarus, 1990). Appraisals are evaluations of a particular encounter or type of encounter. Knowledge refers to general beliefs about personal characteristics or character- istics of the environment (Lazarus, 1991). Ap- praisals may directly regulate experience and action in any given setting. People���s appraisals of a 34 CERVONE, SHADEL, & JENCIUS 1One illustration of the historical separation of personality theory and assessment is that the terms assessment and testing do not appear as index items in Hall and Lindzey���s (1957) classic textbook of per- sonality theories, and the large majority of the theorists discussed by Hall and Lindzey receive no mention in Cronbach���s (1970) classic textbook of psychological testing.
given encounter, however, may be substantially shaped by the knowledge that they bring into that setting. Salient knowledge structures, then, may contribute to stability and coherence in personality functioning by creating coherent patterns of ap- praisal (Cervone, 1997). The distinction between knowledge and appraisal processes is illustrated by the research programs discussed later. A third feature of social-cognitive theory is that it treats personality as a complex, dynamic system (Cervone, 1997, 1999 Cervone & Shoda, 1999c). Personality is a system of dynamically interacting social-cognitive and affective processes, as Mischel and Shoda (1995, 1998) have emphasized. As with any such system (see, e.g., Barton, 1994 Fogel, Lyra, & Valsiner, 1997 Nowak & Vallacher, 1998 Waldrop, 1992), personality can only be understood by examining both its basic elements and the inter- connections among these elements. The personality psychologist must address the distinctive intercon- nection of cognitive and affective processes that con- tributes to personal coherence and uniqueness (Cervone, 1997 Mischel & Shoda, 1995, 1998). By combining this systems view with social-cognitive theory���s focus on self-referential thought and the hu- man capacity for self-regulation, personality can be viewed as a complex ���self system��� (Bandura, 1999, p. 229) through which individuals contribute to their experiences, actions, and development. Three aspects of a complex systems view are of par- ticular note. The first is that complex systems tend to self-organize (e.g., Bak & Chen, 1991 Nowak & Vallacher, 1998). Interactions among multiple ele- ments of the system give rise to stable patterns of orga- nization in the system as a whole. The system���s organization, then, does not result from the influence of a high-level organizer. Development is not directed by endogenous structures that create immutable sys- tem tendencies (cf. McCrae & Costa, 1996). Instead, ���processes develop over time into more complex and stable organizations��� (Caprara, 1996, p. 18). These sta- ble patterns arise ���without prespecification��� (Lewis, 1997, p. 193). The second point is that a complex sys- tem���s internal organization can give rise to coherent, stable patterns in its overt behavior. Coherent behav- ioral tendencies are understood as emergent properties of interactions among the basic elements of the system. An important aspect of this explanation of the behavior of a complex system is that no individual, isolated structure in the system creates or directly corresponds to a global behavioral tendency of the system as a whole. Instead, global system properties are explained by reference to interactions among multiple underly- ing mechanisms. For example, the behavior of a mac- roeconomic system that acts as if guided by an ���invisible hand��� is understood by reference to dynamic interactions among multiple market forces, no one of which is independently responsible for, or directly cor- responds to, the system���s overall pattern of economic stability or change (Arthur, 1990). The third point is that, in complex systems, self-organization can take on any of a large variety of final forms. Systems take on enduring patterns of organization that are unique. ���De- velopmental self-organization,��� then, ���[tends] to dig its own idiosyncratic trenches��� (Lewis, 1997, p. 196). In this systems view of personality, the principle of reciprocal interaction can be extended from the analy- sis of person���situation interactions to the study of in- teractions among personality variables. Distinct personality processes reciprocally influence one an- other in the course of development and functioning. This point is illustrated, for example, in the study of af- fect and self-regulatory processes. Personal standards for performance partly determine people���s affective re- actions to performance outcomes, and affective states influence the standards for performance that people set (Cervone, Kopp, Schaumann, & Scott, 1994 Scott & Cervone, in press Tillema, Cervone, & Scott, in press). These three defining features of social-cognitive theory differ from the theoretical principles found in some alternative perspectives in personality psy- chology. We consider one such alternative now, namely, that of the five-factor theory of personality structure (McCrae & Costa, 1996). Contrasting the social-cognitive and five-factor theories serves to highlight the unique features of the social-cognitive theory of personality assessment that we present in the following section. A Contrasting Perspective: Five-Factor Theory Social-cognitive theory contrasts with the trait-the- oretical perspective known as five-factor theory (Mc- Crae & Costa, 1996, 1999). Five-factor theory is the outgrowth of a remarkably consistent set of empirical findings. Across different assessment methods, lan- guages, and cultures, interindividual differences in global dispositional tendencies can be well described through the use of five linear dimensions (McCrae & Costa, 1999). Similar interindividual-difference di- mensions are found whether one analyzes terms in the natural language (Goldberg, 1993) or items in psychol- ogists��� personality questionnaires (McCrae & Costa, 1990). These findings have spurred the development of a five-factor theory that represents an effort to move from a description of individual differences to an ex- planation of the personality functioning of the individ- ual (McCrae & Costa, 1996, 1999). Five-factor theory posits that the five dimensions found in analyses of 35 SOCIAL-COGNITIVE THEORY OF PERSONALITY ASSESSMENT