Alternatives in the pursuit of the predictability and consistency of persons: Stable data that yield unstable interpretations

  • Mischel W
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Abstract

After a review of the historical roots of current issues in personality psychology, useful sources for prediction are summarized and some current convergences in the search for coherence are identified. The value of people as expert assessors is reiterated and the stability, consistency, and predictability of behavior are distin- guished as multiple issues. In the pursuit of consistency in social behavior, two major routes emerge. One route aggregates data across situations and response modes, thereby reducing the variance from those sources, and identifies the resulting stable individual differences. The second route assesses consistency from situation to situation, searches for its psychological bases, and focuses on the discriminativeness of behavior as well as its coherence. Each route serves different purposes and has value for those different goals; neither one preempts the other. Years of research on the consistency of social behavior from situation to situation have yielded stable results that sometimes are used to reach opposite interpretations. But these puzzling differences reflect the two contrasting routes and goals in the search for consistency, not instabilities in the data nor a neglect of psychometric principles. Theory-guided predictions within particular empirical contexts are needed now to explore more deeply when and how either discriminative or more generalized patterns of coher- ence occur, and to illuminate their psychological bases with increasing precision.

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Authors

  • Walter Mischel

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