Trait, State or Type?

Above, we assumed that personality is the product of a constellation of traits, yet a number of personality models and measures conceptualize personality through ‘types’ (e.g., Myers- Briggs type indicator; Myers, 1978). Personality types posit people as members of distinct and discontinuous categories (Carver & Scheier, 1996); for example, a person is either an extravert or an introvert. Typologies are suggested to have useful features, most notably that they are relatively simple to grasp, which can be beneficial when discussing personality with non-expert individuals, as we often do within organizations. Type approaches are often contrasted with the trait view of personality, which suggests that an individual can fall on a continuum for each trait, so that positioning towards either extreme of the continuum is indicative of a stronger tendency to think, feel or behave in that manner. A person is not simply extraverted or introverted, but rather is positioned somewhere along a scale ranging between the two extremes. A simple consideration of human personality and behaviour favours a continuum approach over a type approach: people do differ in their level of extraversion (or indeed any other trait) and are not simply one type or another. For this reason alone, we can say that trait theories are more valid than typologies. Typologies come under further scrutiny when we consider the measures designed to assess them. For example, the MBTI, despite being widely used, lacks internal consistency, test- retest reliability and predictive validity (Pittenger, 2005). Thus, due to poor reliability and questionable validity, the current authors recommend that regardless (or perhaps because) of their simplicity, typologies be treated with caution in all organizational contexts, and under no circumstances should be used for selection. That this point still needs to be raised is testament to the gulf between science and practice we raised in the introduction to this chapter.

A similarly contested yet more nuanced debate of real relevance to the personality in selection discussion relates to personality stability and the influence of situational variables. The extreme explanations that all behaviour is a product of the environment (if this were true no cross-situational consistency would exist) or that traits alone explain everything (if this were true any cross-situational variability would not exist) are inadequate. Indeed, both situational variables and traits can be of equal relevance to explaining any single behaviour. Often, traits share only modest correlations (0.3) with behaviour (Mischel, 1968), as do situational variables (Funder & Ozer, 1983).

Thus, behaviour is not simply the product of either traits or the environment. Rather, most behaviour is the product of complex trait x state interactions, whereby the influence of the trait tends to be greater than that of the state in circumstances where situational pressures are weak, and vice versa (e.g., Carver & Scheier, 1996; Judge & Zapata, 2015; Monson, Hesley & Chernick, 1982). Thus, the influence of personality traits differs across scenarios. Despite the role of situational variables, what we can conclude is that traits do predict behavioural patterns across situations and time (e.g., Feist & Barron, 2003); those who score high on measures of anxiety tend to be more anxious than those who score low on anxiety across situations. Such consistency is essential; without it, personality would not be a relevant construct to consider in a selection equation.

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