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Personality coherence in acts and texts: Searching for coherence within and beyond trait categories

Mairéad McKenna, Daniel Cervone, Aninda Roy, Candice Burkett
Published: 12 June 2021

Abstract: This paper reports two studies that explore complementary aspects of personality coherence. Study 1 addressed cross-situational coherence in contextualized psychological response. Idiographically-tailored methods assessed individuals’ (i) beliefs about their personal attributes, (ii) subjective “mappings” of these attributes to everyday circumstances, and (iii) self-reported contextualized action tendencies. A novel index of idiographic–nomothetic relations gauged the degree to which the idiographic methods yield unique information. Participants’ mappings commonly deviated from the structure of nomothetic trait categories; people often grouped together contextualized action tendencies traditionally associated with different trait categories. The idiographic mappings predicted cross-situational coherence in action tendencies. Study 2 asked whether the contextualization of personal qualities would be evident when people merely are asked to describe their personal attributes in natural language. Participants wrote narratives describing positive and negative qualities. Narratives were coded for the presence of three linguistic features: conditional statements, probabilistic statements, and personality trait inconsistencies. All three occurred frequently. Furthermore, they co-occurred; among participants who described trait-inconsistent attributes, the large majority spontaneously cited conditions in which these attributes are manifested. People who recognize that they possess inconsistent personal qualities may nonetheless attain a coherent understanding of themselves by spontaneously developing a contextually-embedded sense of self.
Keywords: personality coherence / contextualized action tendencies / cross-situational coherence

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