What implications does the cognitive viewpoint in social psychology, and the study of social cognition in general, have for theories of personality?
For most of the modern history of psychology,
theories of personality have been dominated by two main
Although Kelly can be fairly called the founding of cognitive theorist of personality, he was not the only theorist to adopt a cognitive stance. In the 1950s, a number of workers in the tradition of learning theory slowly began to abandon behavioristic analyses and introduce cognitive constructs into their views of personality. What is remarkable about this development is that it began to occur in the early 1950s, in the heyday of Skinnerian behaviorism -- and that some of these individuals were themselves established behavior therapists. Although personality and psychopathology have often been thought to follow historical trends in psychology, in this case the fields seemed to have exercised a leadership role.
Although most studies of learning performed before 1950 employed lower animals such as rats, dogs, and pigeons for subjects, the ultimate object of inquiry was humans. The major theories of learning assumed, explicitly or implicitly, that the same principles of learning adduced to explain simple behavior in these species would also be found relevant to complex human behavior. This program of application to the human case was pursued most prodigiously by Skinner, in his analyses of personality and social behavior (1953) and language (1957). According to Skinner, human behavior is performed under the conditions of stimulus control. Rather than focusing on internal dispositions such as traits and motives, a proper analysis of personality will focus on the individual's reinforcement history, as well as on discriminative stimuli and reinforcement contingencies present in the current environment. Human behavior is complex only insofar as the stimulus conditions in which it occurs are complex.
Other investigators also took up the Skinnerian program. For example, Arthur and Carolyn Staats (1963) attempted to apply the principles of learning to problems in personality, motivation, and social interaction, among other topics. Their work is not exactly Skinnerian in nature, because it attempts to come to grips with certain aspects of language that are outside the scope of Skinner's analysis. Nevertheless, the list of psychologists whom they cite as the inspiration for their efforts begins with Skinner, and includes most of major figures identified with the behaviorist analysis of learning. Staats' most recent statement of his theory, in fact, is entitled Social Behaviorism (1975).
This movement gained considerable impetus from the success of behavioral treatments for psychopathology (Yates, 1970, ref). Although in logical terms the success of a treatment based on learning principles does not mean that a syndrome was initially acquired through learning, many have not been able to resist that conclusion. And if abnormal personality can be acquired through learning, by extension the same might be true for the normal case.
At the same time, it became clear that certain aspects of complex human behavior resisted conventional behavioral analysis. As one example, language does not seem to be acquired through the principles of conditioning and reinforcement that are central to behaviorist analyses. The same is true of many human social behaviors. For example, extinction regimes such as systematic desensitization and flooding are quite effective in eliminating phobic and compulsive behavior. Although at first this would seem compatible with the view that these aspects of behavior were acquired through learning, in fact in most cases it is difficult or impossible to see any direct experience with the feared object that could serve as an occasion for learning. Although concepts such as preparedness can account for the emergence of some phobias under conditions of degraded exposure (Seligman, 1970), a history of even minimal exposure seems entirely absent in other cases. The problem of accounting for learning without direct experience of reinforcement ultimately lead to the development of a different cognitive theory of personality: cognitive social learning theory.
This gradual recognition set the stage for a cognitive turn in psychotherapy -- that is, an emphasis on mediating cognitive processes, rather than the functional relations between stimuli and responses.
The psychology of personality also took a cognitive turn. Well into the 1950s, personality theory and research was dominated by two points of view:
The cognitive turn in personality theory began with a decidedly non-cognitive
turn -- i.e., the application of traditional learning theory to
the problem of personality.
A step in this new direction was taken with
the social learning theory of Miller and Dollard (1941).
These theorists had already published important work on
aggression (Dollard, Doob, Miller, Mowrer, & Sears, 1939),
and were subsequently to interpret psychoanalytic theory in
terms of Hull's S-R theory of learning
(Dollard & Miller, 1950). In their analysis of social
learning, Miller and Dollard also turned to Hull (in fact, their
book was a major product of the Institute of Human Relations, an
interdisciplinary group of social scientists gathered together
at Yale under Hull's leadership). Hull's theory was chosen because it was the
most comprehensive theory of behavior available at that time:
applying it to the human case would be a sort of test of its
power. The result was an S-R theory of personality and social
behavior that was extremely influential in its time.
Miller and Dollard chose to translate Freudian theory into the
terms of Hullian learning theory. Psychoanalysis was the
dominant theory of personality in the 1940s, and its basic concepts -- basic
biological drives, conflict, and derivative drives like
anxiety -- seemed to fit fairly comfortable
within the framework of Hullian learning theory.
According to Miller and Dollard, personality
consists of a system of habits formed through learning, which
in turn occurs in a social context. The learning
process, in turn, is described in terms of Hullian S-R learning
theory. A habit represents a strong connection between some
stimulus and some response. This association is acquired by
virtue of drive-reduction: in the presence of the stimulus, the
behavior has led to the satisfaction of some drive. Although
Hull conceived of these drives as biological in nature, Miller
(1951) later added concept of acquired (or secondary) drive.
That is, through conditioning some external stimuli come to
possess some of the properties of an internal drive state. For
example, while fear is an innate drive, elicited by noxious
stimulation, it can also be conditioned to previously neutral
stimuli. Habits can be learned because they lead to fear
reduction (a primary drive), and also because they eliminate
fear stimuli (secondary drives). Drive-reduction theory thus
provides the basic elements of personality viewed as a system of
habits, in the form of principles of learning.
Thus, personality can be viewed as a system of habits acquired
and maintained through drive-reduction. Individual differences
in habitual responses to environmental stimulation comprise the
whole of personality. Miller and Dollard argued that in order to
understand human personality, it was necessary to understand the
principles of learning. However, because the habits that
comprise personality are social behaviors, it is also important
to understand the social circumstances in which that learning
takes place. Thus, Miller and Dollard called their approach social
learning theory. In this regard, it is interesting to note
that the theory represents the collaboration between Miller, a
psychologist, and Dollard, a sociologist. Thus, personality
becomes an interstitial field, combining different levels of
Like Skinner's behavioral approach, social learning theory as stated would seem to imply that the person must have direct experience with reinforcement in order to establish habits. As noted, this is unlikely to be the case. In order to cope with this problem, Miller and Dollard postulated a drive of imitation. Imitation is a process by which similar actions are performed by two individuals in response to appropriate cues. At the start, imitation is a behavior which can be reinforced by the environment, just as other behaviors are. When rewarded regularly, however, it takes on the properties of an acquired drive. Thereafter, the individual is motivated to imitate the behavior of others -- to copy their behavior in order to obtain the same rewards that they receive from their actions. Imitation is widespread because the culture reinforces it strongly, as a means of maintaining social conformity and discipline. For this reason, although imitation is an acquired drive (and therefore optional in principle), it is almost a necessary consequence of socialization.
Miller and Dollard discussed two principal forms of imitation.
In both forms, one person matches another's
Although Miller and Dollard were obviously correct in asserting that imitation occurs in human social learning, their systematic theoretical position required more than mere assertion. Rather, they needed to show that imitation could be acquired under conditions of appropriate reinforcement. To this end, they taught one group of rats, the leaders, to make a particular discrimination in a maze in order to obtain food. Another group of rats, the followers, were rewarded (with food) whenever they made the same choice as the leader; a third group of rats was rewarded for not imitating -- i.e., for performing in a manner opposite to the model. After only 12 days of training, the imitators and non-imitators behaved quite differently in the maze: imitators reliably followed the leaders, while the non-imitators reliably did the exact opposite. This difference was obtained even when leaders were substituted who were of a different subspecies than the followers, when an entirely different test situation (jumping a gap) was introduced, and when a different drive (thirst) motivated the behavior. Clearly, the rats had learned a general rule: imitate the behavior of the model in order to receive the reward.
Similar experiments were performed with children, with similar results. However, for obvious reasons it is difficult to do a tightly controlled experiment with humans -- one that firmly rules out the influence of prior learning and verbal mediation. The demonstration of imitation learning in rats was an important accomplishment, because it lent credibility to the assertion that imitation was learned by humans as well. If a rat, with its limited cognitive skills, could learn something as subtle as imitation, certainly children could do so as well -- and by the same processes.
Hullian learning theory, once the dominant theoretical view in psychology, is now largely of historical interest (Bower & Hilgard, 1981). Its emphasis on formal statements and quantitative analysis contributed much to the development of psychology as a science. However, many of its predictions proved incorrect or logically contradictory, and eventually it was abandoned. The importance of Miller and Dollard's social learning theory was not, therefore, that it applied Hullian learning theory to personality. Rather, social learning theory was important because it was the first time that problems relating to personality were brought under the umbrella of a general psychological theory -- in this case, a theory of learning. As such, they set the stage for later developments that would culminate in a radically different approach to personality than had gone before. Hullian learning theory did not last. However, the idea that personality is acquired through learning in a social context persisted. Following Miller and Dollard's seminal work, other investigators expanded on this theme, introducing new principles as psychological theories of learning developed and changed. The most important aspect of that change was a shift from reinforcement to cognitive views of learning. In order to understand how that change took place, it is important to examine three later theories, which when combined with the work of Miller and Dollard form the tradition of social learning theory.
Although some social-learning theorists continued to embrace the tradition of functional behaviorism into the 1960s and 1970s the break from the behaviorist view of social learning was apparent in the Rotter's Social Learning and Clinical Psychology, which appeared in 1954 (see also Rotter, 1955, 1960; Rotter, Chance, & Phares, 1972). Where Staats and Staats (1963), almost than a decade later, were acknowledging the primary influence of Skinner, Keller, and Schoenfield and other functional behaviorists, Rotter (1954) acknowledged the influence of no behaviorists at all. Rather, he aligned himself with the dynamic psychologist Adler and the gestalt psychologists Kantor and Lewin (see also Rotter, Chance, & Phares, 1972, p. 1). From the beginning, Rotter intended his theory as a fusion of the drive-reduction, reinforcement learning theories of Thorndike and Hull with the cognitive learning theories of Tolman and Lewin. Although Rotter's version of social learning theory often uses behaviorist vocabulary, it is with a clear cognitive twist.
One way that personality is revealed is in the choices that people make. Given a variety of behavioral options available in some particular situation, people will differ in those that they select or prefer. In accounting for the choices that people make, Rotter's theory employs three basic concepts: behavior potential, expectancy, and reinforcement value. Behavior potential was the probability of a particular behavior occurring in some situation, given the available reinforcement contingencies. Expectancy was defined as the person's subjective probability that a particular reinforcement would occur as a function of his or her engaging in some specific behavior in some specific situation. Finally, Reinforcement value refers to the degree to which the individual would prefer some outcome above all others, provided that the probabilities of the outcomes were equivalent. These three terms are combined to yield the basic predictive formula (1954, p. 108):
BP = the potential for behavior x in some situation s under conditions of some reinforcement a;
E = the expectation that reinforcement a will occur in situation s following behavior x; and
RV = the value of reinforcement Ra.
Rotter's intellectual debt to the behaviorists is clear. Instead of predicting behavior in general, behavior is predicted only under certain conditions. When these conditions change, the behavior may likely change as well. Moreover, the behaviorist construct of reinforcement is central to his theory. However, Rotter's departure from the behaviorists is equally clear: whereas behaviorists such as Skinner hoped to dispense with mental constructs entirely, Rotter places them at the center of his theory. Although the behaviorists defined reinforcements objectively in terms of their effects on behavior (Thorndike's empirical law of effect), Rotter defines them subjectively: the value attached to any potentially reinforcing event is subjective, and one person's meat can be another person's poison. Moreover, whereas behaviorists defined reinforcement contingencies objectively, in terms of the contingent probability of the event given a particular response, Rotter clearly defines them subjectively, in terms of the individual's cognitive expectations. Finally, Rotter defined the situation in psychological terms, as it is experienced by the individual, and as the individual ascribes meaning to it. As for Kelly, objective reality is not as important as subjective reality.
What determines the value of a reinforcement? This question has little meaning in the context of functional behaviorism. A reinforcement is defined as any event that increases the probability that some behavior will occur. But Rotter resisted the behaviorist view of organisms responding mechanically to reinforcements. Instead, he argued that events acquired reinforcement value because they acted on the organism's motivational state. Hull's drive-reduction theory had also made this assumption, but it had been rejected by Skinner as mentalistic and unnecessary. Nevertheless, Rotter postulated the existence of a set of psychological needs that motivate our behavior. These motives are derived through learning from physiological drives such as hunger, thirst, and warmth. Ultimately, the value of any reinforcer depends on the degree to which it satisfies these needs. Like expectancies, individual differences in needs are central sources of individual differences in choice and behavior.
Rotter (1954, p. 132) defined six broad categories of needs, which might be compared to the more extensive list offered by Murray (1940):
Although empirical work in his laboratory indicated that the needs were commonly related, Rotter argued that the needs were in principle independent. For this reason, for example, he defined protection- dependency and independence as separate needs, on the grounds that they could coexist at high levels within the same individual. Moreover, of course, each need could be defined more or less specifically. For example, a person could have a high need for recognition of her achievements in school, but not for her achievements in sports; or a person could seek protection from his friends but not his family. The important thing, for Rotter, is that people differed in terms of the extent to which they possessed each of these needs -- their levels of need value. Differences in need value, in turn, determine differences in the value of different potential reinforcers.
Rotter and Kelly were colleagues at Ohio State, and it is interesting that their theories, written at approximately the same time and published within a year of each other, were stated formally in terms of a list of postulates and corollaries (though neither mentions the other in his preface).
Postulate 1. "The unit of investigation for the study of personality is the interaction of the individual and his meaningful environment (Rotter, 1954, p. 85).
Corollary 1. "The study of personality is the study of learned behavior. Learned behavior is behavior that is modifiable, that changes with experience" (p. 86).
Corollary 2. "Investigation of personality requires the study of experience or sequences of events. Its method is historical, for an analysis of any behavior involves the investigation of the conditions preceding its appearance" (p. 87).
With this postulate, Rotter clearly adopts the perspective of Lewinian field theory, which holds that the organism must be considered in its total context, including both biological structure and environmental surround. In this respect, Rotter's theory can be described as interactionist, in the sense that variables inside and outside the organism jointly determine behavior. It is futile to predict behavior without considering the nature of the environment in which that behavior takes place. Such predictions will either be inaccurate, or so highly generalized as to be meaningless. Note the phrase "meaningful environment". Rotter does not define the environment in objective terms, as the behaviorists might, but rather in subjective terms: what is important is the significance or meaning that a certain environment has for the individual.
This significance is acquired through experience. Rotter finds it so self-evident that human social behavior is learned that he does not even seek to defend the proposition -- except to note that innate physiological variables are notoriously difficult to measure. But Rotter's preference for learning variables goes beyond pragmatics. Even if a particular behavior had reflexive or instinctual origins, these would be relevant only the first time that behavior appeared. Thereafter, the appearance of that behavior would be increasingly shaped by the principles of learning. Thus, innate determinants of behavior can be accepted as given, and thereafter ignored for purposes of understanding.
Rotter's emphasis on learning leads naturally to an historical perspective on behavior. Current behavior is linked through learning to events that have occurred in the past, and it is crucial to reconstruct these events if we are to understand a person's current personality. Of course, this is the position of dynamic theories such as psychoanalysis as well. However, Rotter disagreed with the psychoanalytic practice of minutely dissecting particular events in the person's remote past. It was not necessary to go all the way back to a person's childhood in order to understand his or her adult personality, and he considered it sufficient to analyze only a sample of past events.
Postulate 2. "Personality constructs are not dependent for explanation upon constructs in any other field (including physiology, biology, or neurology). Scientific constructs for one mode of description should be consistent with constructs in any other field of science, but no hierarchy of dependency exists among them" (p. 88).
Rotter rejects the philosophical position of reductionism in science. Reductionism attempts to explain the properties of complex systems in terms of the elementary units of which these systems are composed. Thus, the behavior of a molecule might be described as the aggregate of the behaviors of its individual atoms; or the behavior of a society might be described as the aggregate of the behaviors of its individual members. For Rotter, psychological events demand psychological descriptions. Although the association between levels of description (e.g., physical, biological, individual, and societal) is an interesting empirical problem, psychologists need not consider more molecular levels of analysis in order to achieve a valid understanding. For Rotter, it was sufficient to study the psychological determinants of choice behavior; it was not necessary or even desirable to understand the neuronal representation of expectancies and values -- or even the physiological processes underlying learning.
Postulate 3. "Behavior as described by personality constructs takes place in space and time. Although all such events may be described by psychological constructs, it is presumed that they may also be described by physical constructs as they are in such fields as physics, chemistry, and neurology. Any conception that regards the events themselves, rather than the description of the events, as different is rejected as dualistic" (p. 90).
Corollary 1. "Any conception of behavior wherein "physiological behavior" is conceived of as "causing" "personality behavior" or vice-versa is rejected as dualistic" (p. 90).
Corollary 2. "Any conception of behavior wherein explanation is made on the basis of the interaction of body with mind is rejected as dualistic" (p. 90).
In addition, Rotter rejects philosophical dualism, the position that mind and body are distinct forms of reality, each capable of exerting a causal influence on the other. Thus, Rotter wishes to avoid such statements as stress (a psychological construct) causes ulcers (a biological construct). Such a statement simply means that stress and ulcers are associated with each other in some way. However, the nature of the connection cannot be specified because the two events are described at different levels of analysis. Once we understand the physiological consequences of stress, we will be able to trace the manner in which stress causes ulcers -- but then the answer will not be that stress causes ulcers, but rather some events described in physiological terms. Rotter's rejection of dualism is one with his rejection of reductionism: there are different levels of analysis applicable to any event, and each level has its legitimate uses.
Postulate 4. Not all behavior of an organism may be usefully described with personality constructs. Behavior that may usefully be described by personality constructs appears in organisms of a particular level or stage of complexity and a particular level or stage of development" (p. 92).
Corollary 1. "Physiological or other constructs may be used in describing some of the conditions present when personality characteristics are first acquired" (p. 92).
Corollary 2. "Physiological or other constructs may be used by psychologists for any practical purpose" (p. 92).
Corollary 3. "The human organism may interact with itself using learned meanings (or symbols) which describe in physiological terms or terms characteristic of other modes of description" (p. 93).
These statements have to do with the development of personality, both phylogenetically and ontogenetically. Phylogeny has to do with the evolution of species, from the earliest organisms that developed in the sea to humans and other primates; ontogeny has to do with the development of individual species members, from conception to birth and throughout the life cycle to death. Rotter is asserting that personality has a beginning, expressed in both phylogenetic and ontogenetic terms. That is, some species can be said not to manifest individual differences in personality. Although household pets such as cats and dogs differ from each other, even if they are of the same breed or subspecies, the same might not be true of other species such as turtles or mice. Similarly, although toddlers and adults display differ markedly from each other, this might not be the case for fetuses or even neonates. Rotter does not take a position on just when personality begins, either phylogenetically or ontogenetically. However, his assumption that personality is acquired through learning implies that personality does not exist before the individual has had an opportunity to interact with his or her environment.
Of course, even newborns differ from each other -- differences in activity level that are frequently referred to as temperament. These differences can be described in strictly physiological terms -- perhaps in terms of levels of cortical and autonomic arousal, as in Eysenck's theory. However, Rotter clearly distinguishes these differences from personality, proper, which emerges in the course of social learning and must be analyzed in terms of psychological constructs. Temperament is important because it sets limits on what can be learned through social interaction, but it is far from the same as personality.
There may be strong correlations between physiological and psychological constructs. For example, it may be that people say they are hungry when their levels of blood sugar drop below certain levels. But it is also clear that these correlations may dissolve: people sometimes eat even though they are not hungry, in order to accomplish some other purpose. Moreover, decreasing blood sugar levels do not explain why one person chooses peanut butter and another chooses quiche. Even in the case of biological motives there is a learned component that must be described in psychological terms. Therefore, even if it should be demonstrated that individual differences in adult temperament had a purely physiological basis, the public expression of temperament in social behavior would have to be understood psychologically, in terms of the interaction between physiological and psychological processes.
Postulate 5. "A person's experiences (or his interactions with his meaningful environment) influence each other. Otherwise stated, personality has unity. New experiences are a partial function of acquired meanings, and old acquired meanings or learnings are changed by new experience. Perfect prediction of acquired behavior would ideally require a complete knowledge of previous experience" (p. 94).
Corollary 1. "One cannot truly speak of the "cause" or "etiology" of behavior as described by personality constructs but only of the conditions, present and antecedent, necessary for the occurrence of the behavior. Such descriptions are never "ultimate" or final" (p. 96).
Unlike the behaviorists, who write as if personality were the sum total of the person's learned responses and no more, Rotter adopts an anti- reductionistic, holistic perspective. Personality is acquired by learning, but each new element is learned in the context of all previous ones, and so is influenced by all that has gone before. This implies that personality in the early stages of its acquisition will be relatively unstable, because there will be relatively little in the background. As time goes on, and social learning accumulates, personality will become increasingly stable: the weight of what has gone on before will exert powerful constraints on what is newly learned.
The cumulative, interdependent nature of personality has implications for questions concerning the causes of behavior. Rotter denies that there will be any single cause for any action. A child's outburst might be explained in terms of his teacher's treatment of him. But his teacher's behavior also has to be explained, as does the manner in which the child learned to respond to that kind of treatment, and so on. Antecedent causes can be traced infinitely backward in time, but it is not always convenient (or necessary) to do so. All that is required is a sufficient explanation -- one that accounts satisfactorily for the facts observed, and permits prediction of future behaviors. The appropriate level of explanation is the one that best meets the purposes of prediction.
Postulate 6. "Behavior as described by personality constructs has a directional aspect. It may be said to be goal- directed. The directional aspect of behavior is inferred from the effect of reinforcing conditions" (p. 97).
Corollary 1. "The needs of a person as described by personality constructs are learned or acquired. Early goals or needs (and some later ones) may be spoken of as arising owing to the association of new conditions with the reinforcement of physiological homeostatic movements, and most later goals or needs arise as means of satisfying earlier learned goals" (p. 100).
Corollary 2. "Early acquired goals in humans (which play a great role in determining later goals) appear as the result of satisfactions and frustrations which, for the most part, are entirely controlled by other people" (p. 101).
Corollary 3. "In order for any behavior to occur regularly in a given situation or situations, it must have been made available to the person using it by leading to some reinforcement or reinforcements during previous learning experiences" (p. 101).
Corollary 4. "A person's behaviors, needs, and goals are not independent but belong in functionally related systems. The nature of these relationships is determined by previous experience" (p. 101).
Like Miller and Dollard, but unlike Kelly, Rotter regarded motivational constructs as useful in the explanation and prediction of behavior. Learning is central to personality, and reinforcement is central to learning. However, Rotter's emphasis on acquired psychological needs led him to abandon Hullian drive-reduction views of reinforcement. Physiological needs such as hunger and thirst have a cyclical quality, in that they can be fully satisfied by appropriate behaviors, and then increase at a later time. Psychological needs, however, can never be fully satisfied: a single A in a single course does not satisfy a student's motive to achieve; nor would straight As for an entire college career. Rotter argued that a single reinforcing event did not satisfy a person's psychological needs even temporarily. With psychological needs, reinforcing events only move the individual incrementally toward a goal; the goal itself is never completely achieved.
Where do these goals come from? As with everything else in personality, they are learned. In the earliest stages of personality development, learned goals are derived from physiological needs. But in later stages, they are derived from previously learned goals. Rotter notes that the young child's physiological needs are satisfied by other people. For this reason, the primary psychological needs concern other people and our relations with them. The interpersonal nature of psychological motivation, and the interpersonal nature of the reinforcements that move people toward their psychological goals, gives social learning theory its name.
In the 1954 version of the theory, Rotter argued that behaviors were acquired through the direct experience of reinforcement. In the 1972 version, reflecting the influence of Bandura as well as Miller and Dollard, Rotter added a principle of learning through observation and imitation, even in the absence of direct reinforcement. However it becomes part of the person's repertoire, however, any item of behavior can be used to satisfy many different psychological needs. This is the basis of the flexibility of human social behavior. Behaviors that lead to the same goals, and reinforcers that satisfy the same needs, will come to be associated with each other. Therefore, as personality develops it will be increasingly difficult to predict any specific behavior, although as personality achieves stability and generality it will be possible to predict accurately which class of behaviors will occur, or which events will be reinforcing, in any particular situation.
Postulate 7. The occurrence of a behavior of a person is determined not only by the nature or importance of goals or reinforcements but also by the person's anticipation or expectancy that these goals will occur. Such expectations are determined by previous experience and can be quantified" (pp. 102-103).
After discussing non-cognitive constructs such as motivation and reinforcement, Rotter ends the statement of his theory on a distinctly non-behaviorist, cognitive note. Following Tolman and Postman, Rotter defined learning as the building up of expectancies or hypotheses concerning behaviors and reinforcements. Rather than stamping behavior into a passive organism, reinforcement acts by changing the person's expectations concerning the outcomes of his or her actions. The individual's behavior is goal-directed in that he or she acts in anticipation of future reinforcements -- environmental events that will lead to the satisfaction of certain psychological needs. Expectancies are subjective, and may be at variance with objective probabilities -- and with the subjective expectancies of other people.
Rotter distinguished between specific and generalized expectancies, in terms of the number of different situations in which they were applicable. When people enter unfamiliar situations, they carry with them generalized expectancies concerning outcomes that they then refine into specific expectancies on the basis of actual experience. With repeated encounters with a series of unfamiliar situations, these will then generalize and form the backdrop for behavior in even newer situations.
Rotter's theory emphasizes the goal-directed nature of social behavior: people engage in activities in order to satisfy their psychological needs. One of the most important expectations that a person develops, therefore, concerns the source of reinforcements: whether they are a function of his or her own actions, or rather dependent on the acts of other people. Locus of control amounts to the person's perception of the causal relation between behavior and reinforcement (Rotter, 1966; Phares, 1976, 1978). People with internal locus of control view reinforcements as dependent on their own behaviors. By contrast, people with external locus of control view their own behaviors as ineffective, but rather matters of luck, chance, fate, or the actions of powerful others; or, they may view reinforcements as simply unpredictable. According to Rotter, there are consistent individual differences in locus of control that can be measured by a personality test similar to the questionnaires used to measure traits. Conceptually, however, locus of control is a cognitive rather than a behavioral disposition. Although it is highly generalized by definition, and thus displays consistency over different situations, locus of control can change from internal to external or the reverse in accordance with the experiences of the individual.
The following table presents items similar to those on Rotter's I-E Scale of locus of control (the
scale is copyrighted). High scores on the scale reflect external
locus of control. The items were written intuitively, and then
edited on the basis of statistical analyses of internal
consistency. Consistent with Rotter's
concept of generalized expectancy, subscales relating to
academic achievement and social relations (for example) proved
highly related to each other. The scale was validated by
comparing the responses of two groups of medical patients: those
who showed determined efforts toward recovery from tuberculosis,
and those who were relatively passive in the face of the
disease. Thus, Rotter's development of
the I-E Scale followed the procedures for establishing construct
validity (Campbell & Fiske, 1965; Cronbach & Meehl,
1955; Loevinger, 1959).
Items from Rotter's I-E Scale
|I more strongly believe that:|
|Many people can be described as victims of circumstances.||What happens to other people is pretty much of their own making.|
|Much of what happens to me is probably a matter of luck.||I control my own fate.|
|The world is so complicated that I just cannot figure things out.||The world is really complicated all right, but I can usually work things out by effort and persistence.|
|It is silly to think one can really change another's basic attitudes.||When I am right I can convince others.|
|Source: Phares (1978)|
Empirically, locus of control is negatively correlated with social desirability, as measured by the Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability scale. Although considerations of response style might suggest that the I-E scale lacks discriminant validity, the empirical correlation also appears to reflect the strong belief in external locus of control that is prevalent in Western culture. A sample of black college students tested before the rise of the civil rights movement in the United States showed them to be generally high -- i.e., external -- in locus of control; by contrast, volunteers for the Peace Corps, motivated by high levels of idealism to help underdeveloped nations rise out of poverty, were more external than their non-volunteer peers. Internals are more likely than externals to attempt to control their life situations: patients make more inquires about their treatment, prisoners more knowledgeable about institutional rules, workers to join unions, and blacks more likely to engage in civil rights protests. In achievement situations, internals place more reliance on their own skills, and respond to failure with increased efforts. Internals are also more resistant to subtle attempts to persuade them to change their opinions.
Another kind of expectancy concerns the motives of other people. Rotter noted that personality was acquired through interaction with other people, and especially in the early stages the individual is highly dependent on others for satisfaction of his or her physiological and psychological needs. Although at first this situation would seem to foster an external locus of control, in fact the opposite is the case. Because people provide many reinforcements, we can only develop a sense of internal control if other people can be trusted to give us what we deserve. Therefore, from our earliest moments we begin to develop a sense of whether other people can be trusted. Interpersonal trust is defined as one's expectation that he or she can rely on another's promises (Rotter, 1967; Tellegen & Roberts, 1976). Interpersonal trust is also important because so much social learning takes the form of formal and informal teaching, rather than direct experience. Therefore we must trust those from who we gain information to tell us the truth.
According to Rotter, there are substantial individual
differences in interpersonal trust. Again, trust is to be
thought of as a belief -- a cognitive disposition somewhat
analogous to a trait. Unlike a trait, however, the belief need
not be stable, and can change depending on the individual's experience. The following table shows
some of the items from Rotter's
Interpersonal Trust Scale. High scores on the scale indicate
higher degrees of trust. The IT Scale shows significant positive
correlations with the Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale,
again reflecting prevailing cultural norms. In an interesting
study, scores on the IE and IT scales were correlated with
acceptance of the Warren Commission report on the assassination
of President Kennedy. Although the commission concluded that a
lone assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was responsible for Kennedy's death, many people believed that there
had been a wider conspiracy, and some believed that the
commission -- headed by the Chief Justice of the United States
Supreme Court, and composed of a number of distinguished public
figures -- had participated in a cover-up of the conspiracy. In
general, members of a student sample who were suspicious of the
commission's conclusions scored lower
on the trust scale, and higher (more external) on the control
scale, than those who accepted them.
Items from Rotter's Interpersonal Trust Scale
|It is safe to believe that in spite of what people say, most people are primarily interested in their own welfare.|
|Fear of social disgrace or punishment rather than conscience prevents most people from breaking the law.|
|Hypocrisy is on the increase in our society.|
|Source: Stack (1978)|
Rotter's social learning theory has obvious implications for personality development and change: personality is acquired, and continuously altered, through learning. Rotter investigated personality in children, but he paid little attention to the details of personality development. Rather, as a practicing clinical psychologist, he devoted a great deal of effort to developing ways of promoting personality change in a therapeutic context (Rotter, 1970). Throughout, he was concerned with closing the gap between theory and practice, and with applying personality theory to the development of scientific therapeutics -- practical treatments that are thoroughly grounded in basic research.
Rotter assumed that the principles of learning theory sufficient to account for complex human social behavior would serve the goals of effective psychotherapy. However, he did not believe that science had much to say about the goals of therapy -- these were essentially value judgments to be made by society as a whole. Rotter's own view was that the goals of treatment were to help the person achieve happiness and a constructive life. To this end, the therapist agrees to take some responsibility for changing the person's self-understanding, behaviors, and goals. Within limits, then, the goal of the therapist is to help the patient achieve his or her own goals. Except where these goals are clearly detrimental to others, or prevent the person from making some contribution to the welfare of others (in proportion to the satisfaction received from them), the therapist has no right to impose values or goals on the patient.
For Rotter, maladjustment occurs under a number of different conditions. First, the individual may place very high value on the satisfaction of some particular need, but have a very low expectation that need-relevant goals will be achieved. In this case, treatment would be directed toward revising either the values or the expectations. Alternatively, a person may value two needs that are incompatible, resulting in conflict; or the person may lack the skills needed to obtain satisfaction in some area. Again, social learning theory would orient treatment towards correcting these specific problems -- as opposed, for example, to the development of insight into their origins in the person's early childhood.
Psychotherapy, then, is explicitly conceptualized as a situation in which the therapist helps the patient learn what he or she needs to get along, be happy, and make a contribution. Therapy is therefore largely a matter of problem-solving. Patients are led to examine their values and the consequences of their behavior, and alternate ways of achieving their goals. They are asked to search for differences among life situations they had previously perceived as similar, and to find similarities among situations they had construed as different. Throughout all this, the therapist is not standing by with ready answers. Although the therapist takes an active role in reinforcing the patient's behavior, the solutions arrived at are ultimately the patient's and not the therapist's. Nevertheless, the therapist plays a key role in helping the patient to understand how other people might regard them, view a particular situation, or react to certain behaviors, as well as how others might behave in certain situations. The therapist's role extends beyond the consulting room. Personality changes through experience, and the most powerful experiences occur in real life situations rather than in an isolated environment. The therapist must take a role in manipulating the patient's life situation so that these experiences will take place, and that the patient will have the opportunity to practice certain behaviors and experience reinforcement. Just as personality emerges as individuals interact with their environments, personality changes through a process of interaction, and will not be successful if the patient is isolated from others. Formal psychotherapy is just one of the means by which personality change takes place, but the principles of change are the same no matter where it occurs.
Rotter incorporated cognitive concepts, such as expectations, into a more or less conventional social learning theory based on notions of drive and reward. The first major theorist to adopt a thoroughgoing cognitive perspective was George Kelly (1955; Maher, 1969). Kelly held the view (also articulated by Piaget) that people are naive scientists. In referring to persons as scientists, Kelly only meant that we are all constantly engaged in the process of understanding ourselves and the world around us. Like scientists in the laboratory, we test this understanding by making predictions about the observable outcomes of events. And like applied scientists and engineers, we use our refined understanding to reshape ourselves or some aspect of the world in which we live. In this way, scientific activity is a constant and essential aspect of human existence.
In characterizing people as naive scientists, Kelly was not being pejorative. Rather, he was simply stating that most of us act like scientists without recognizing that this is so, and without benefit of didactic training in scientific method. Consider what is happening when (for example) a white male gives his opinion about the suitability of women, or blacks, for high public office? In what important way is this different from a psychologist who makes a statement about the differential attitudes and abilities of men and women, or blacks and whites? Or, consider (to take another example) a college woman who expresses a feminist point of view in order to assess her date's attitudes towards women? In what essential way is that different from a psychologist who determines how a subject will respond to a particular stimulus? Our theories about ourselves, and our methods for testing them, are not rigorously formalized the way those of a professional scientist would be. They may even be wrong. And our scientific efforts are largely implicit, and rarely explicitly articulated. But they are scientific theories and methods just the same.
Kelly called his approach the theory of personal constructs. A construct, in Kelly's usage, is a category representing some aspect of world knowledge. Constructs function to guide the individual's perception and memory of events, and response to them. Personal constructs are important because these cognitive categories differ for each person. According to Kelly, people cannot understand the world except through their own constructs. Therefore, in order to understand a person's response to events, we have to understand the constructs through which he or she has perceived those events.
A major principle in Kelly's theory is constructive alternativism. Here he argues that there are many ways of viewing an event. People differ in terms of how many alternative constructs they have available, and which they choose to apply at any given time. From Kelly's point of view, objective reality does not matter very much: experience and action are determined by subjective reality. What matters is how events in the outside world are construed by the individual. Most people can choose among alternative construals of an event, that that choice will determine their experience of and response to that event. If the person makes a different choice, covert experience and overt behavior will both differ as well. Personality change, for Kelly, is tantamount to a change in the individual's personal construct system: new construals can be added to the individual's repertoire, or construals that were previously preferred can now be avoided. When personality changes, the individual literally perceives the world differently.
With these considerations in mind, we are in a position to
summarize Kelly's theory. As perhaps
befits a psychologist who views the person as a naive
scientist, Kelly stated his theory in the form of a
Fundamental Postulate and eleven Corollaries. (In scientific
theory, a postulate is the essential presupposition of a line
of reasoning; a corollary is a statement that follows by
inference from a proposition, and requires little or no
additional proof.) Some of Kelly's
language may seem a little obscure to today's
readers. In fact, it seemed equally (or more) obscure to
readers more than 30 years ago, when it was first published.
This was deliberate on Kelly's part.
He wanted to shake up personality and clinical psychology, and
to do so he used unfamiliar words, and gave idiosyncratic
meaning to familiar terms. He was trying to communicate his
own personal construct system to his readers, but his ideas
were so different from other theories of his time that hardly
any of them could have been expected to have any idea what he
was talking about. Table 1 lists the Fundamental Postulate and
the eleven Corollaries that follow from it.
The Fundamental Postulate
People acquire knowledge of the world over the course of everyday living. This knowledge provides the basis for making predictions concerning the attributes of objects outcomes of events encountered in the world. These predictions, in turn, direct the individual's psychological processes -- in other words, his or her experiences, thoughts, and actions. Kelly's formulation makes clear that his is a thoroughly cognitive theory of personality. There is no mention of types or traits, and no motives -- not even a motive to acquire knowledge -- and no principles of learning. From Kelly's point of view, people simply acquire world-knowledge naturally, in the ordinary course of everyday living.
A construing is an interpretation, and the term construct, refers to an abstract cognitive framework, composed of similarities and contrasts, used for perceiving objects and interpreting events. Future events are anticipated in terms of what has gone before -- every event is, in some sense, a repetition of some event in the past; nothing entirely new ever happens. When a person groups two events together, a concept -- Kelly preferred the term construct -- is formed representing some theme that recurs in them. When an event is anticipated in terms of some construct, the person expects that the new event will repeat some essential feature of that construct. For one person, being sent to jail as an adult is like being sent to detention as a schoolchild; for another, jail is seen as similar to a period of solitary meditation. These two people, construing jail in such different ways, are likely to react quite differently when threatened with imprisonment. Their reaction to the event is determined by the way in which that event is construed. Applying a construct to an event is a purely subjective matter -- the construal of an event is not in any way determined by objective reality.
Kelly distinguished among several different types of constructs. Some constructs are labelled core, because they were basic components in the person's interpretive apparatus; others, labelled peripheral, were not so essential to everyday living. Some constructs are verbal, in that they can be explicitly articulated by the person who uses them; others are pre-verbal, reflecting that the person cannot express them in language. When a woman says she likes a man because he is tender and handsome, she is expressing the verbal constructs that she applies to him (and perhaps other men as well); when another person says of his friend, "I don't know why I like her -- I just do", the basis for the experience of liking is pre-verbal. The notion of pre-verbal constructs is about as close as Kelly ever came to acknowledging the existence of unconscious mental contents and processes.
Having defined constructs, Kelly now introduces the term personal construct, which forms the centerpiece of his theory of personality. People differ because they anticipate the same event differently. Each person applies a somewhat different set of constructs to perceiving and interpreting objects and events. When two people are introduced to a person for the first time, one may construe her as beautiful while another may construe her as cultured. Their differing constructions will, of course, determine how they will behave toward that person -- and, of course, their differing constructions, in the face of the identical objective reality -- the person standing in front of them -- are deeply expressive of their own individual personalities. Even if a construct used by two different people has the same verbal label, the name may refer to a different underlying meaning for each. For one person, "cultured" may have to do with being familiar with the latest in films, books, and plays; for another, "cultured" may have to do with a preference for eating in expensive French restaurants, and making witty conversation at cocktail parties. Again, the differences in underlying meaning will lead to differences in subsequent behavior. Note that it is not enough simply to give a construct a name. Unless the person is asked what the verbal label means, another person may misconstrue his or her construct entirely.
Constructs don't exist in isolation from each other: they are organized in some way, and this organization is also an important feature of personality. Kelly assumes that this organization is hierarchical in nature, such that some constructs (superordinate) include others (subordinate). In Kelly's terms, some constructs imply others. Superordinate constructs have many implications; subordinate constructs have relatively few implications. Thus, for one person, the construct "good" may imply that a person is extraverted, agreeable, conscientious, emotionally stable, and cultured. Thus, the construct "good" conveys a great deal of information about the person so labelled. The other constructs also have their implications; but since "good" implies each of the other constructs, it also implies each of their implications as well. Of course, the precise nature of the hierarchy will differ from person to person. People differ in terms of the organization of their personal construct systems, as well as in the nature of their personal constructs. For one person, "good" may imply positively valued intellectual attributes, such as intelligent, creative, cultured, and artistically sensitive; for another person, the same label may subsume attributes such as friendly, agreeable, responsible, and nurturant. Obviously, these organizational differences will lead to differences in behavior displayed toward a person labelled as "good".
Constructs are arranged in contrasts as well as in hierarchies. Just as a construct at a particular level in the hierarchy carries positive implications for certain constructs that are subordinate to it (e.g., good people are also friendly), so each construct carries negative implications for some construct that is opposite to it (e.g., good people are not bad). Thus, constructs are more correctly expressed in terms of opposing pairs or polar opposites. One member of the pair is called the emergent construct, while the other is called the contrast. Kelly argues that this dichotomization is necessary: some contrast is implied in every construct named by the person, even if the person does not (or cannot) express it in words. Unexpressed contrast are called submerged. Note, as with hierarchical organization, even when two people give their constructs the same names, the exact nature of the contrast will differ from one to the other. For one person, the opposite of "friendly" may be "hostile"; for another, the opposite may be "disagreeable". Again, the differences in contrast indicate that constructs carrying the same verbal label may differ radically in underlying meaning. Note, too, that a person's contrast may not match the antonym of the construct as found in the dictionary. Constructs are personal, and their meanings are not the same for everyone.
According to Kelly, people use the constructs that provide them with the greatest predictive power. In addition, they choose to emphasize the pole of a construct that provides them with the greatest predictive power. A person may possess a construct of good-bad, but emphasize goodness rather than badness. In either case, the choices represent guiding principles around which the person builds his or her life. This is because the chosen pole structures the person's experience -- things are seen in their best or worst light, depending on the pole that has been chosen.
Taken together, the Organization and Choice corollaries have to do with the complexity of the individual's personal construct system. Some individuals have highly differentiated systems, involving many different constructs -- and thus many different ways of construing events. Others have very simple systems, consisting of only a few constructs -- and thus little opportunity for constructive alternativism. In some individuals, the system may be so simple that it is monolithic -- that the same construct is applied to everything. Monolithic personal construct systems are frequently seen in political and religious ideologues, who see everything in terms of left and right, godly and sinful. They are also characteristic of paranoid psychiatric patients, who tend to filter environmental events through a rigid delusional system.
Monolithic personal construct systems are as maladaptive as they are rare, simply because some constructs events simply aren't relevant to some objects and events. One reason that normal individuals evolve fairly differentiated personal construct systems is in order to adequately understand a complex world. Kelly coined the term range of convenience to refer to the variety of objects and events to which a construct is relevant. Obviously, superordinate constructs will tend to have a wider range of convenience than subordinate ones. Plausibly, more events can be described in terms of good or bad than can be described in terms of intelligent or stupid, or friendly or hostile.
Kelly never offered a formal theory of learning, but he was clear that constructs are acquired through experience. No event is totally novel, in that it can always be construed as similar to something that happened before. However, some events are quite surprising, and don't fit comfortably within an existing personal construct system. When this happens, the person either forces the event into the system, or changes the system in some respect. Under normal circumstances, the former is more likely than the latter. In this way, we add new constructs to our systems, refine their definitions, and widen or narrow their foci of convenience. Obviously, the amount of change that occurs in a personal construct system will depend on the nature of encounters that the person has with the world. If a person has a relatively narrow range of experiences, the opportunity for change in the system will be subsequently restricted.
In refining the personal construct system, the person may be obliged to refine the personal constructs themselves -- alter its contrast, perhaps, or some of its implications. However, some constructs are less amenable to this refining process than others -- in Kelly's terms, are less permeable. Again, it should be clear that it will be harder to alter core constructs than peripheral ones, because relatively fewer events will have to be re-construed in the later case. Similarly, subordinate constructs will be easier to modify than superordinate ones, because the former carry fewer implications that will also have to be changed.
In characterizing an event, it can happen that a person uses two or more constructs that seem, to an outsider, to be contradictory. For example, a student could describe his roommate as "a nice guy, kind of aggressive". "Nice guy" is a positive label, but "aggressive" is an attribute that is not generally considered socially desirable. How, then, can his roommate be both nice and aggressive? The answer, for Kelly, is that both these constructs are compatible with some superordinate construct -- for example, both nice and aggressive may in fact be socially desirable in the student's mind. If so, understanding this aspect of his personal construct system -- that he defines social desirability in a way that is different from that favored by other people -- resolves the apparent contradiction immediately. Kelly's position implies that individual personal construct systems are typically coherent and internally consistent. In this way, he incorporated (though not explicitly) social psychological theories predicated on concepts of balance and dissonance reduction. However, he did not follow the social psychologists in postulating strategies for achieving balance or reducing dissonance. For Kelly, fragmentation in thought is more apparent than real, and what appear to be inconsistencies are resolved when there has been a thorough inquiry into the individual's personal construct system -- when we understand the idiosyncratic way that he or she construes the world.
For Kelly, a person's system of personal constructs is the whole of that person's personality. Thus, two people are alike in personality to the extent that they have overlapping sets of personal constructs. When two individuals sample constructs from the same repertoire, and choose the same poles of the constructs they sample, they will interpret the world in the same way, have similar experiences, and make similar responses to environmental events. Thus, genetic similarity is wholly irrelevant to similarity in personality. Identical twins who have somehow acquired different systems of personal constructs will be altogether different in personality. Although systems of personal constructs evolve through experience, similarity is not simply of upbringing either. The key to similarity is in the ways that people think -- in the ways that they construe events.
People are similar to the extent that they have similar personal construct systems, but it is not necessary for two people to have similar systems in order for them to interact with each other. All that is needed is for each to understand the construct system of the other. In other words, it is necessary that each person be able to perceive and interpret objects and events as the other one does. Each participant may prefer different construals of some object or event -- such differences are almost inevitable -- but at each must have the other's constructs in his or her repertoire. Similarly, each participant must enact roles that are geared to fit the personal construct system of the other -- otherwise no meaningful social interaction can take place.
Kelly's theory called for a wholesale change in the way in which personality is assessed. The important variables in personality were personal constructs, but none of the assessment instruments in use at that time were designed for this purpose. The traditional personality questionnaires, such as the MMPI and CPI, were intended to assess trait- like behavioral dispositions; the TAT was designed to assess motives; and the Rorschach was designed to assess cognitive style. Of course, any of these procedures could be adapted for the purpose of assessing personal constructs. Highly authoritarian individuals might be assumed to share a core personal construct of obedience-submission, and themes such as dominance or sexuality emerging repetitively on a projective test might be good candidates for personal constructs as well. But such uses require inferential leaps of some magnitude. Kelly recognized that his new approach to personality demanded a new approach to personality assessment as well.
These days, cognitive psychology has developed a large body of procedures designed to tap mental structures and processes, and some of these can be adapted for purposes of assessing personal constructs (e.g., Kihlstrom & Nasby, 1981; Nasby & Kihlstrom, 1985). However, Kelly was writing before the cognitive revolution took hold, and he was forced to invent his own techniques. For this reason, he introduced the Role-Construct Repertory Test, known colloquially as the "Rep Test".
The Rep Test is administered in four phases.
In the first phase, Kelly supplied a set of abstract person categories, which he labeled as roles. These included the person's mother and father (or the people who played this part in the person's life), the person's spouse or romantic partner, a teacher whom the person liked (and one who was disliked), an employer or supervisor, someone whom the person would like to get to know better, and so on. Table 2 provides the entire list of roles. Then the subject or client was instructed to fill in each role with the name of an actual person, without repeating any names.
Roles in the Role Construct Repertory Test
|A teacher you liked.|
|A teacher you disliked.|
|Your wife (husband) or present girlfriend (boyfriend).|
|An employer, supervisor, or officer under whom you worked or served and whom you found it hard to get along with.|
|An employer, supervisor, or officer under whom you worked or served and whom you liked.|
|Your mother, or the person who has played the part of a mother in your life.|
|Your brother nearest your age, or the person who has been most like a brother.|
|Your sister nearest your age....|
|A person with whom you have worked who was easy to get along with.|
|A person with whom you have worked who was hard to understand.|
|A neighbor with whom you get along well.|
|A neighbor whom you find hard to understand.|
|A boy you got along well with when you were in high school.|
|A girl you got along well with when you were in high school.|
|A boy you did not like when you were in high school.|
|A girl you did not like when you were in high school.|
|A person of your own sex whom you would enjoy having as a companion on a trip.|
|A person of your own sex whom you would dislike having as a companion on a trip.|
|A person with whom you have been closely associated recently who appears to dislike you.|
|The person whom you would most like to be of help to.|
|The most intelligent person whom you know personally.|
|The most successful person whom you know personally.|
|The most interesting person whom you know personally.|
In the second phase, sets of three roles were selected, and the subject was asked to think of an important way in which two of the people were alike, and different from the third -- as well as the opposite of that attribute. For example, a male subject might be given the roles of mother, girlfriend, and best friend. In response, he might say that his mother and his girlfriend were women, and his best friend a man -- yielding the construct "woman" and its opposite, "man". Alternatively, he might say that he disliked his mother, but liked his girlfriend and best friend -- yielding the construct "like" and its contrast, "dislike". As can be seen, there are numerous ways in which two people can be alike, yet different from a third. The important thing is how the individual chooses to solve this problem.
By listing attributes and opposites for even a small number of triads (Kelly recommended a sample of about 15), one can easily get a sense of how the person classifies important people in his life. Consider, for example, a person who immediately gives the construct male-female when presented with two people of the same gender and one of the opposite, but has difficulty coming up with any construct at all when presented with three people of the same gender. For such a person, gender is an important personal construct. His personal construct system would seem to be rather monolithic as well: he doesn't think about people except in terms of gender. By contrast, consider a person who gives a different construct- contrast pair for each triad presented. Such a person would appear to have a very rich and differentiated personal construct system -- in other words, he has many different ways of viewing people.
In the third phase, the subject is instructed to indicate every role to which each construct applies.
In the fourth phase, the subject rates each role figure from the first part in terms of the degree to which each construct elicited on the second part applies to him or her. Note that this is a rating of relevance, not descriptiveness. When rating a successful person on a construct such as like-dislike, for example, the question is not how much the subject likes that person. Rather, the question is whether the subject thinks about that person in terms of liking and disliking -- in other words, whether that role-figure falls within the range of convenience of the construct. For the sake of convenience, these ratings are typically made dichotomously: a construct either applies or it doesn't. Intermediate ratings can be made, of course, but such fine judgments are sometimes difficult to make, and in Kelly's time -- before the advent of high-speed computers -- they were difficult to analyze even if subjects could make them.
Try the "Rep Test" for Yourself
To get a sense of how Kelly's Role Construct Repertory Test goes, I've prepared a demonstration version. Follow the instructions on the first two pages, proceeding through Phases 1 through 4 as described above.
Link to the Rep Test demonstration in PDF format. You'll need to print it on on legal-size paper (8-1/2' x 14"), and be sure to print it in landscape format. The document contains complete instructions for completing the Rep Test.If you prefer to try the Rep Test on a computer, here are links to the Excel files from which the PDF was made: just fill in the blanks as appropriate. For ease in use, you can use Excel to change the formatting of the table -- for example, by increasing the column width or row height. One advantage is that, if you complete Phase 4 on a computer, you will have an Excel file with all the role-by-construct ratings ready to be imported into statistical software for analysis.
Link to Excel file for Phase 1
Link to Excel file for Phase 2
Link to Excel file for Phase 3
Link to Excel file for Phase 4
Here's a link to statistical software available for free on the Internet.
The page contains at least one link to a general-purpose program for factor analysis.
I can't vouch for the accuracy of any of this software, or for the fact that it's virus-free, so caveat emptor.
The Rep Test is enormously flexible, in that almost anything can serve as a role for the elicitation of constructs. In addition to the standard form of the test, in which people serve as roles, Kelly also devised a form in which situations were substituted for people. As in the standard form, the subject was asked to provide concrete instances of certain abstract situations. The situations in Kelly's version of the Situations Rep Test are given in Table 3. In Kelly's practice, the subject was then asked to name people who served, or could have served, as resources in that situation. Of course, constructs can be elicited for situations just as they can be for persons.
Situations in the Situational Resources Repertory Test
|The time in your life when you were most perplexed about what kind of job or vocation you ought to go into.|
|The time in your life when you had the greatest difficulty understanding how to get along with people of the opposite sex.|
|The time when things seemed to be going against you -- when your luck was particularly bad.|
|The time when you were most hard up financially.|
|The time when you were in poorest health or had a long period of sickness.|
|The time when someone took advantage of you because you did not know what you were doing.|
|The time when you made one of the most serious mistakes in your life.|
|The time when you failed to accomplish something you tried very hard to do.|
|The time when you were most lonely.|
|The time when you were most discouraged about the future.|
|The time when you wondered if you would not be better off dead or when you came nearest feeling that way.|
|The time when you felt most misunderstood by others or when it seemed as if people were ganging up on you.|
|The time when you lost your temper or got very angry.|
|The time when you hurt someone's feelings in a way he or she did not deserve.|
|The time when you felt most ashamed of yourself.|
|The time when you were most frightened or fearful about what might become of you.|
|The time in recent years when you asked childish questions.|
|The time when you felt jealous of someone's affection.|
|The time in your life when you felt most mixed up or confused about things in general.|
|The time when you had serious trouble with your parents or came nearest having trouble with them.|
|The time when you had trouble with your brother, sister, or a close relative....|
|The time when you had trouble with your wife (husband) or girl (boy) friend....|
Most major theories of personality specify a set of procedures by which the attributes of personality can be assessed. Psychometric theory gave us the rating scale and the self-report questionnaire. Psychodynamic theories gave us projective techniques such as the Rorschach and Thematic Apperception Test. Personal construct theory is no exception: Kelly devised a procedure, known as the Role Construct Repertory Test, for assessing the individual's repertoire of personal constructs. Although the Rep Test was not conceived as a conventional psychometric instrument, it seems desirable to determine how it stands up against the kinds of psychometric criteria established for more conventional assessment techniques: standardization, norms, reliability, validity, and utility (Bannister & Mair, 1968).
In one sense the Rep Test is a standard technique, because the abstract roles (in the person and situation version) are the same for all subjects. However, the concrete figures instantiating each role will be different for each individual. Thus, in a sense each individual is taking a test that has been constructed uniquely for him or her. Nevertheless, we may call the test standardized in the sense that specific procedures are followed for administering the test and evaluating the subject's performance on it.
The very nature of personal construct theory, however, militates against the collection of normative data. In a very real sense, comparison with normative standards is completely beside the point. What is of interest is the individual's repertoire of personal constructs. Although there may be some therapeutic reason to be interested in the amount of overlap between the client's system and those of other people who play a significant role in his or her life, there is little interest in comparing the individual's performance to population norms. In this sense, the Rep Test is completely idiographic.
Of course, some quantitative standards might be developed on the basis of the test. For example, given a standard version of the Rep Test administered to an adequate sample of the population, it would be possible to determine the average number of different constructs in an individual's system. It is also possible to administer a form of the Rep Test in which the figures, as well as the roles, are the same for all individuals, and determine the distribution of various construct labels applied to them. Still, the Rep Test is fundamentally an idiographic technique, not well suited for comparisons across individuals or between individuals and groups. This state of affairs effectively prevents the usual sorts of normative comparisons.
Using various mathematical techniques, it is possible to measure the degree of cognitive complexity in an individual's personal construct system (Crockett, ref), and determine an average value for that attribute. In this sense, perhaps, normative comparisons can be made without violating the idiographic essence of the Rep Test. Such comparisons have been carried out by a number of investigators (Bannister & Fransella, 1967, 1971; Bannister, Fransella, & Agnew, 1971). For example, Bannister and Salmon (1966) constructed a standardized form of the Rep Test in which people or objects served as figures, and constructs such as "mean" and "cumbersome" were supplied for rating. They found that the grids of thought-disordered schizophrenics showed less organization or structure than those of normals -- especially when the subjects rated people rather than objects. Similarly, the construct systems of obsessional neurotics appear to be fairly simple (i.e., unidimensional) and rigid (Makhlouf- Norris, Jones, & Norris, 1970).
Reliability is measured in various forms. It is not clear how test- retest reliability enters into things, simply because there is no implication in Kelly's theory that personal constructs are stable, trait- like structures. In fact, the principle of constructive alternativism would suggest precisely the opposite -- that each person has in his or her repertoire a variety of constructs that might be relevant to an object or event, and the question is which of these is applied at any given time. At the very least, stability is an open question in Kelly's theory, and should not be assumed in advance. Nevertheless, test-retest studies do indicate that most normal individual have fairly stable personal construct systems, in that the Rep Test tends to elicit the same constructs, and those constructs are applied similarly to specific role figures, on each occasion in which the test is applied. By contrast, thought-disordered schizophrenics show considerably less stability in their personal construct systems (Bannister, 1960, 1962; Bannister & Fransella, 1966).
Similar considerations apply to internal consistency. Although the doctrine of traits suggests that traits and their behavioral manifestations should show a considerable degree of coherence, the Fragmentation Corollary indicates that this is not necessarily to be expected with personal constructs. In any event, the expressly idiosyncratic nature of personal constructs militates against conventional psychometric assessment of whatever internal consistency exists in an individual's system. With personal constructs, coherence is a purely subjective matter, apparent only from inside the system. Constructs may go together in one person's mind that are wholly foreign to each other in another's.
The property of test validity is a difficult matter. With personality questionnaires, it is possible to assess the degree to which a person's self-reports are accurate by measuring them against actual behavior. However, there is no objective criterion of the contents of a person's mind independent of his or her verbal report. However, some evidence on external validity has been obtained by showing empirical relations between personal constructs and actual behavior. For example, Fransella and Bannister (1967) conducted a study of voting behavior in England. A special form of the Rep Test was conducted that included the subjects themselves, and their stereotypes of Conservative and Labor party members. The subjects who voted for the Conservative Party rated themselves more similar to their image of Conservative than of Labor members, while the reverse was true for those who voted Labor. Thus, although we will never know the degree to which the responses to the Rep Test were accurate reflections of the subjects' personal construct systems, at least their test responses permitted prediction of actual behavior. In that sense, the Rep Test has external validity. With respect to utility, the Rep Test clearly can be rated positively. At least at the time it was developed, it was the only technique available for the assessment of personal constructs. Thus, it ranked high on utility. Since 1955, however, a number of technological developments have occurred that permit the more economical assessment of personal construct systems. Most of these are close variants on Kelly's own invention, and probably not to be construed as entirely different tests. For example, Bannister and his colleagues developed the Grid Test of Thought Disorder, described earlier, to permit nomothetic comparisons among different mental patients. Hinkle (1965) created the Implications Grid, in which there are no elements, to analyze the relations between constructs. Constructs are supplied by the experimenter, and the subject's task is to indicate the degree to which each is related to the others.
A number of investigators, taken with Kelly's
approach Rosenberg (1977) and Pervin (1976) have written
computer programs that automate the collection of idiographic
personal construct data.
Kelly's personal construct theory of
personality captures, indeed epitomizes, the three Brunerian
aphorisms that I cite so often in my teaching.
Rotter labeled his approach a social learning theory, and employed some of the concepts and principles of reinforcement theory in it. Nevertheless, his approach is less a theory of learning than it is a theory of choice. That is to say, Rotter is primarily concerned with how expectancies and values govern the choices we make among available behaviors. However, the theory has relatively little to say about how those expectancies, values, and behavioral options are acquired -- except to say that they are acquired through learning. It remained for another social learning theorist, Albert Bandura (Bandura, 1971, 1977, 1985; Bandura & Walters, 1963) to add to the concept of expectancies an explicit theory of the social learning process. Like Miller and Dollard, Bandura stressed the role of imitation in social learning. However, his concept of imitation departs radically from theirs in that it no longer functions as a secondary drive. By emphasizing cognitive processes over reinforcement, observation over direct experience, and self-regulation over environmental control, Bandura took a giant step away from the behaviorist tradition and offered the first fully cognitive theory of social learning.
Bandura's behaviorist roots are seen most clearly in his earliest statement of social learning theory, Social Learning and Personality Development (Bandura & Walters, 1963). On the surface, this book seems to draw heavily on Skinnerian analyses of instrumental conditioning. For example, there is a great deal of attention paid to the role of reinforcement schedules in the maintenance of behavior. Bandura and Walters argued that most social systems operated on some combination of fixed- and variable-interval schedules of reinforcement. For example, Bandura and Walters argued that most social reinforcements are delivered on an intermittent schedule. For example, family routines such as dining, parent-child interactions, shopping trips, and the like occur in a relatively unchanging cycle. Insofar as these activities can take on reinforcing properties, then, they are delivered on a fixed-interval schedule: the child cleans his plate at dinnertime during the week, and then gets to sit on his mother's lap during the family television hour on Saturday night. Other social reinforcements, however, seem to be delivered on a variable-interval. When a child seeks her mother's attention, she may get it immediately, or at some time in the future when her mother doesn't have her hands full. Still other situations seem to involve the differential reinforcement of high or low rates of behavior. If a father pays attention to his child only when she kicks and screams, he is virtually guaranteeing that she will misbehave when she wants attention.
For a number of reasons, Bandura and Walters argued, most social reinforcements are dispensed on complex schedules combining variable ratios and variable intervals. In some respects, this complexity reflects the unreliability of social reinforcement. Often, the reinforcing agent is simply not present when the target behaviors occur -- in such a case, reinforcement must be deferred to a later time. And because humans are not automated machines, they will sometimes simply fail to deliver reinforcements that are due. Perhaps more important, the complexity of social reinforcement schedules reflects the complexity of social demands. It is rarely enough simply to perform a certain social behavior: it must be done in a particular way. A child asked to set the dinner table will not be rewarded simply for piling dishes and utensils; the forks have to be on the left side of the plate, and the blade of the knife turned inward. As Bandura and Walters note, effective social learning entails both adequate generalization and fine discriminations.
Social learning is also complex because of the wide variety of factors that affect the effectiveness of social reinforcements. For example, Bandura and Walters noted that children with strong dependency habits (note the phrase) are more susceptible to social reinforcement. Moreover, the prestige of the reinforcing agent is important, as is the match between the person and the agent on such attributes as gender. The person's internal states of deprivation, satiation, and emotional arousal are also important. The point is that social reinforcement is complex but not chaotic or haphazard. Social behavior is maintained by virtue of schedules of reinforcement, even if the precise nature of that schedule is sometimes hard to discern.
Although they placed their primary emphasis on the role of positive reinforcement in the maintenance of behavior, Bandura and Walters also discussed the role of negative reinforcement and punishment in behavior control. Obviously, much social behavior involves the suppression or inhibition of responses. For example, such activities as drinking alcohol or engaging in sexual activities are prohibited in children, and permitted to adults only under certain conditions. These behaviors, too, are under control of social reinforcements: either simple non-reward, withholding of previously delivered positive reinforcers, or punishment (the delivery of a negative reinforcer). Of course, the behaviors that must be suppressed are engaged in precisely because they are instrumental in achieving some end. Thus, the person may be put in a position of approach-avoidance conflict.
In their analysis of conflict, Bandura and Walters criticized Miller (1944, 1948, 1959; see also Dollard and Miller, 1950), who assumed that conflict was resolved in favor of the strongest response tendency. Each person has available a number of potential responses to each social stimulus. These are arranged in a habit hierarchy according to their relative strength. As a rule, the strongest response is the one elicited by the stimulus. In punishment, the punished response is initially the strongest, whereas inhibition of that response (or, simply, conditioned fear) is relatively weak. Because the gradient for avoidance or inhibition is steeper than that of approach or excitation, approach tendencies are dominant when the person is farther from the goal, while avoidance tendencies become dominant only when the person is close. At the point where the two gradients cross, the person will be ambivalent, and will oscillate between approach and avoidance.
Miller's analysis also can be applied to the generalization of excitation and inhibition of a response -- for example, aggression. Suppose the response is aggressive in nature, and the child is punished for aggressing against certain individuals -- family members, perhaps. Both aggression and fear will show generalization gradients, being most likely to be elicited by stimuli highly similar to the original conditioned stimuli. However, the generalization gradient of fear is steeper than the gradient of aggression. Therefore some stimuli, quite dissimilar to the original stimulus, will elicit considerable aggressive tendencies but little or no fear. Therefore, the aggressive response, originally aimed at family members, will be displaced onto other people (or objects).
Although Miller's theory gained impressive support from analyses of animal behavior, Bandura and Walters were critical of its application to the case of human social behavior. For example, they argued that deliberate social learning also played a role in displacement. Thus, parents often direct their children's aggressive behaviors towards some targets rather than others, and displacement itself is maintained by contingencies of reinforcement. Clear examples of this may be found in scapegoating and other examples of prejudice towards minorities and other outgroups. By and large, these sorts of aggressive behaviors are not simply selected by the vicissitudes of the generalization gradient. Rather, children get their prejudices from their parents: as Rogers and Hammerstein wrote in South Pacific, "You've got to be carefully taught" whom to hate and fear.
While agreeing on the importance of reinforcement in the control of behavior, Bandura and Walters differed most from their behaviorist predecessors over the manner in which behavior was acquired in the first place. Taken at their word, Skinner and other functional behaviorists actually appear to deny that new behaviors are learned at all. Rather, responses already in the organism's repertoire come to be elicited by certain environmental cues by virtue of the law of effect. What are acquired are new patterns of behavior, by virtue of shaping and successive approximations. That is, a piece of behavior is synthesized from more elementary behaviors already in the organism's repertoire. Bandura and Walters, while agreeing that shaping procedures can be effective, doubted that they were responsible for the acquisition of most complex human social behaviors. Like Miller and Dollard, Bandura argues that social learning is largely mediated by imitation.
On the basis of anthropological studies as well as informal observation, Bandura and Walters argued that socialization -- the acquisition of socially sanctioned beliefs, values, and patterns of behavior -- was largely mediated by imitative learning. In some cultures, for example, young boys and girls are provided with miniature replicas of the tools used by their parents, and they spend a great deal of time tagging along with their parents practicing their use -- thus preparing for their adult roles. Similarly, children in the United States (and other developed societies) are given toys that the child can use to imitate adult behavior. In this way, for example, children in all cultures acquire behaviors consistent with the occupational roles deemed appropriate by their culture for persons of their gender.
Gender-role socialization is far from the only example of learning by imitation. In some tribal cultures, children even obtain their sex education by watching adults engage in various aspects of mating behavior. Certain aspects of language acquisition, such as the meanings and pronunciation of words, are learned largely through observation and imitation of other people. In addition, certain complex motor and cognitive skills appear to be acquired in this manner. Medical residents do not learn to perform surgery through a trial-and-error process. Rather, they learn by watching skilled practitioners operate, and by reading about the procedures in textbooks. In a very real sense, a surgeon knows how to do surgery before he or she ever puts a scalpel to a patient -- that is, before there can be any direct experience of trial and error. On a more mundane level, driver education courses in high schools make sure that students have acquired basic skills in handling an automobile before they ever take to the road.
In tribal cultures, parents and older siblings are probably the models for most imitation. They are, after all, the primary agents of socialization. However, this purpose may also be served by exemplary models sanctioned by the parents: children are constantly being encouraged to emulate various national heroes and mythological figures, as well as the children next door. In technologically advanced societies, models for imitation are provided by books, television, movies, and other media as well as by real life. One of the sources of the constant controversy over children's television viewing concerns the kinds of models presented to children in cartoons and action series. A major function of written and oral language is this kind of cultural transmission. By virtue of linguistic communication, we can tell someone what to do in a particular situation -- describe the behavior, and indicate when it should be performed -- instead of letting the person discover the relations between cues, acts, and outcomes for him- or herself. For this reason, social learning by imitation is highly efficient. In a complex, highly developed society, it also seems necessary.
While agreeing with Miller and Dollard that imitation is an important source of social learning, Bandura and Walters took issue with the theory that imitation -- either as a general tendency or of a specific act -- is acquired through reinforcement. For example, developmental studies show that children imitate others before they ever are reinforced for doing so. Very young infants, up to about four months of age, engage in pseudo-imitation, in which they repeat some simple act (like babbling) displayed by their caretaker. However, this imitation will not occur unless the infant him- or herself had just recently performed the same act. Somewhat older infants will engage in genuine imitation of others, in circumstances where they have not just performed the same act themselves. The extent to which behavior will occur will depend on the degree to which the child's sensorimotor operations have developed. For example, children cannot reliably stick out their tongues in imitation of adults, until they have acquired some mental representation of their facial anatomy (Piaget, 1951; but see Meltzoff & Moore, 1977). Children are not reinforced for this: it simply happens, apparently as a reflection of an innate tendency to do so.
Even imitation of specific behaviors is not learned by virtue of reinforcement. The behaviorist model of imitation involves three elements: a discriminative stimulus (Sd) that serves as a cue, the response of imitating the model (R), and the reinforcing stimulus (Sr). By virtue of the law of effect, repeated reinforcement of the imitative behavior will make that behavior more likely to occur. However, a classic experiment on aggression by Bandura (1962) shows that this is not the case. Children watched a film in which a model displayed novel aggressive behaviors (that is, behaviors not previously in the children's repertoires) towards a "Bobo the Clown" doll. In one condition, the model was punished for this behavior; in another, he or she was rewarded; in a third condition, there were no consequences to the behavior of any sort. In a later test, children who viewed the punished model showed less imitative aggression than those who viewed the rewarded model; interestingly, those who viewed the unreinforced model displayed the same amount of aggression than those who saw the model rewarded. This first test was performed under conditions of no incentive. In a second test, the children were promised a reward for imitating the model: under these circumstances, the group differences disappeared. Thus, novel aggressive behaviors were acquired by the children even though they were not reinforced for imitating the behavior. However, the performance of these behaviors was under reinforcement control: those who saw the model punished were less likely to engage in the behaviors themselves, until instructed that the reinforcement contingencies had been changed.
In a later statement, Bandura (1977) argued that there are two forms of learning. Learning by response consequences is the kind of trial-and-error acquisition of knowledge familiar from the operant behaviorism of Skinner. However, this learning is given a cognitive emphasis. Direct experience provides information concerning environmental outcomes and what must be done to gain or avoid them. As a result, the person forms mental representations of experience that permit anticipatory motivation and behavioral self-control. Modeling involves learning through vicarious experience -- by observing the effects of other's actions. While a term such as "modeling" encompasses learning through example, Bandura also uses it to cover learning through precept -- deliberate teaching and learning, often mediated by linguistic communication.
Bandura (1977) has also analyzed modeling in terms of four component sub-processes: attention, retention, motor reproduction, and motivation. The figure displays these sub-processes in the form of a flowchart. First, the person must pay attention to the model. Thus, the observer must have an appropriate perceptual set, to pay attention to the model (or at least to potentially relevant sources of information in the environment). Certain characteristics of the model, such as its distinctiveness, complexity, prevalence in the environment, and the affective valence associated with it, will naturally determine whether it is attended to. The amount of attention devoted to the model will also be determined by its functional value -- that is, the degree to which the model has been informative in the past. If the model is not attended to, nothing will be learned from it.
However, what has been learned through exposure to the model must be retained in symbolic form and later retrieved from memory. The information gained from the model must be encoded in such a form that it can be used later as needed. This coding can be either propositional or imagistic in nature -- that is, the memory representation may be in the form of verbal descriptions or mental images. The mental representation must also be organized within larger memory structures, so that it can be retrieved efficiently. Any mental activity, such as covert or overt rehearsal, that improves retention will also facilitate observational learning.
Once retrieved, the mental representation must be translated into a motor code so the person can actually perform the behavior. Thus, certain learned behaviors will not be performed if the person does not have the physical capacity to do so. If what has been acquired is a novel arrangement of elementary behaviors, these components must also be in the person's repertoire. Motor reproduction is fine-tuned through feedback from the environment, and also through self-observation. That is, during performance the person can determine for him- or herself whether the actual behavior matches his or her mental representation of it.
Finally, it is important to note that it is the performance of a behavior, not its acquisition, that is under reinforcement control. That is, a person is held to perform whatever behaviors he or she has learned in anticipation of reinforcement. In this sense, behavior is goal- directed. Reinforcement may be offered by external agents, as when parents permit their children to watch television if they finish their homework. It may be vicarious, as when a child performs actions for which she sees her friends being rewarded. Alternatively, reinforcement may be delivered by oneself, as when college students permit themselves to go out on dates only if they have made a certain degree of progress on their term papers. Self-reinforcement may not, as Skinner argued, be especially effective. But the important matter is that its effects, strong or weak, are on performance rather than learning per se.
Bandura's analysis of observational learning clearly distinguishes him from his behavioristic forebears. Early in the development of learning theory, the dispute over the role of reinforcement -- whether an organism could learn through mere exposure -- distinguished cognitive theorists such as Tolman from S-R theorists like Thorndike. Bandura clearly comes down on the side of Tolman, but if that were not enough his analysis of observational learning in terms of mental processes such as attention, retention, and transformation, and motivation clinch the case.
With his emphasis on precept and example as the chief modes of social learning, he argued that reinforcement was not necessary for learning to occur. Rather, reinforcement is merely one way for the person to gain information about the outcomes of actions -- the other ways being example and precept. What then does reinforcement do? Reinforcement merely indicates which responses are most appropriate, given the individual's goals and the demands of the situation. In this way, differential reinforcement contributes to the choice of response, but this contribution is far from the passive, automatic stamping-in of stimulus-response connections envisioned by Thorndike's Law of Effect. With Bandura, social learning theory becomes more fully cognitive, with an emphasis on internal mental processes rather than environmental events. In Bandura's theory, humans do not simply respond to stimuli; they interpret them as well. This emphasis on interpretation marks Bandura's theory as an important step in the evolution of cognitive social learning theory.
Learning in Animals and Infants
Although Bandura goes beyond Rotter in discussing the process of social learning, his analysis of performance is similar to Rotter's in many respects. That is, Bandura agrees that the person's behavior is governed primarily by his or her expectancies concerning the future. Our responses to various situations are governed by information we possess concerning forthcoming events, and the outcomes of our actions. These expectancies are formed, respectively, through processes resembling classical and instrumental conditioning -- except that conditioning is given an active, cognitive interpretation as opposed to the conventional passive interpretation in terms of the laws of practice and effect. Moreover, conditioning is not the only -- or even the most important -- way that these expectancies can develop. Rather, they can be acquired vicariously through precept and example.
Expectations before the fact are, of course, subject to revision by the information gained subsequently. The actual consequences of an environmental event, for example, or of a person's actions, serve to confirm or revise the person's expectations. These consequences can be directly experienced by the person in question, or they may be experienced vicariously through observation or symbolic mediation. Moreover, in discussing the consequent determinants of behavior, Bandura stresses the role of aggregate as opposed to momentary outcomes. In his view, people are more influenced by what happens in the long run than by minor setbacks, delays, and irregularities. In large part, this is due to the cognitive capacities of humans, whose powerful memories permit them to transcend even long intervals, and integrate information from different points in time.
A unique feature of Bandura's social-learning theory is the active role played by the self. Behaviorist doctrine, of course, eschewed any reference to the self as an active organizer of experience or agent of action. Such talk was banned as mentalistic and ultimately beyond the pale of science. Insofar as the self was discussed at all, it was as (in Skinner's terms) a system of responses. As a cognitive theorist, however, Bandura (1977) permits the self to take an active, executive role in the regulation of behavior. In this way, the self plays a role as both an antecedent and a consequent determinant of behavior.
In the cognitive view offered by Tolman and by Rotter, outcome expectancies are vitally important determinants of behavior. That is, we tend to engage in behaviors that we expect will lead to outcomes we desire, and prevent outcomes we dislike. Bandura agrees that outcome expectancies are important. However, he has also added a new concept: self-efficacy expectations (Bandura, 1977, 1978). While it is obviously important that the individual expect that a particular behavior will lead to a certain outcome, it is equally important that the person have the expectancy that he or she can reliably produce the behavior in question. Note that the actual state of affairs is irrelevant here. It does not matter whether the person can, in fact, perform some particular action. What matters is whether the person thinks he or she can. Self-efficacy expectations are conceptually similar to the sense of mastery, and have important motivational properties, in that they determine whether the person will even attempt the behavior in question.
An example of self-efficacy can be found in the literature on learned helplessness. As a rule, dogs placed in a shuttlebox will acquire escape and avoidance responses fairly readily, shuttling back and forth in response to stimuli signaling forthcoming shock. However, dogs who have first received classical fear conditioning are retarded in learning escape and avoidance. In some instances, they simply sit and take the shock passively. Learned helplessness can also be produced in humans. For example, subjects who have been exposed to unsolvable anagram problems are retarded in completing subsequent problems that are solvable. Although the learned helplessness effect is quite complex, it appears to involve the subject's belief that he or she cannot master the situation. In fact, that is objectively not the case: the shock in the shuttlebox is avoidable, and the dog has in his repertoire the necessary behavior; the second set of puzzles is soluble, and the student has the intelligence to do so. Yet, experience has taught the subject to believe otherwise (if we can speak of beliefs in lower animals), and this belief controls behavior.
Self-efficacy can serve as an example of how antecedent expectations develop through social learning. Obviously, one source of self-efficacy is performance accomplishments: the personal experience of success and failure. Repeated failure experiences will lower the person's expectancy that he or she can effectively control outcomes. But the same sorts of expectancies can be generated through vicarious experience. Observing other people's success or failure will lead to appropriate expectations about oneself -- at least to the degree that one perceives oneself to be similar to those other people. But perceived self-efficacy can also be shaped in the absence of any experiential basis whatsoever, merely through verbal persuasion. A person who is repeatedly told that he or she is incapable of accomplishing some goal, especially if that information comes from an authoritative source, may actually come to believe it about him- or herself. Perceived self-efficacy can also change on a moment-to-moment basis, depending on the person's emotional state. Feelings of elation may increase feelings of mastery (sometimes beyond all reason, as in the megalomania of a manic patient), while anxiety or depression may reduce them. Finally, self-efficacy can vary from one situation to another. Even though a person has not encountered a particular problem before, he or she may have a high degree of self-efficacy if it closely resembles some other problem that the person has been able to master in the past.
Another way in which Bandura departs radically from the behaviorist analysis of social learning is by embracing the concept of self- reinforcement. Recall that Skinner objected to self-reinforcement on the ground that it was ineffective as a means of behavioral control. However, Bandura acknowledged that people can effectively regulate their own behavior in the absence of, or in opposition to, schedules of external reinforcement. For example, a run-of-the mill jogger can reward herself by finishing in the top half of a local road race, even though she will never get a medal for her performance. Alternatively, a college professor may feel remorse about flunking a student, even though he receives praise from his dean for upholding academic standards. It is so common to find writers, painters, and composers pursuing their own vision even though they are denied any professional recognition, that the image of the starving artist has become part of our cultural mythology. By means of goal-setting and self-reinforcement, people can free themselves from environmental control. This independence of the person from environmental control distinguishes Bandura's social learning theory from its situationist forebears.
In principle, self-reinforcement frees people from external control. As a practical matter, however, the essential first step in self- regulation, setting the standard, tends to be based on imitation. That is, we set standards for ourselves that are similar to those set for themselves by those we admire. These models may be our parents, teachers, or spiritual leaders. However, models may also come from other sources, such as books, films, and media. One important consequence of literacy, coupled with free access to books and magazines, is that we encounter potential models whose standards may be quite different from those whom we would otherwise meet. Modeling our standards on those individuals is another way in which we free ourselves from the constraints of our local social environment.
In addition to standard-setting, Bandura postulates three other component processes in self-regulation. The person must monitor his or her own performance, and evaluate it according to the standard set for him- or herself. The dimensions on which the performance is evaluated can vary widely, as can the precise standards. Very often, the individual will measure him or herself against actual or assumed population norms; or, some single individual will serve as the standard of comparison; in other circumstances, the standard will be set by the person's own previous behavior. It is important, of course, not to set standards that cannot be met. Research in a variety of domains, from academic achievement to weight loss, indicates that people should set goals for themselves that are clearly specified, and of only moderate difficulty. Vague or unambiguous goals, of course, are not goals at all. Setting an unattainable goal obviously has motivational drawbacks, while setting a goal that is too easy to accomplish will yield little or no satisfaction in its accomplishment. (It should be noted that the same considerations apply to goals set by others, as when parents enforce standards for their children's behavior.)
Once the evaluation has been made, the person will reinforce his or her performance appropriately. These rewards come in two forms, tangible and symbolic. The student who aces an exam may reward herself with a movie or punish herself by canceling a date; or she may just praise or censure herself. The effectiveness of self-praise or self-reproach, in the absence of tangible consequences, is currently subject to considerable debate. However, research clearly shows that people -- even young children -- who fail to meet their own performance standards will deny themselves reward. Apparently, such internal states as self-esteem and self-efficacy have their own motivating properties. While behavior that is controlled only by external contingencies will be unreliable in the absence of those contingencies, our selves are always with us. Thus, in principle self- reinforcement should lead to more effective behavioral regulation, because it is less subject to situational variation.
Moreover, human intelligence and consciousness permits us to project the consequences of our actions far into the future. Traditional behavioral theories, of course, assert that present behavior is under the control of past events, and that future prospects that have no parallel in the past are very weak determinants of behavior. However, this is clearly not the case. The emergence of political movements supporting environmental protection and nuclear disarmament are clear examples of the control of behavior by the future. We have had no experience of the greenhouse effect or nuclear winter, but the prospects of them in the future led us to try to protect the ozone layer, and reduce the number of nuclear warheads, today. The behaviorist analysis of future determinants is largely correct when it is applied to lower animals, with their limited cognitive capacities. Bandura's openness to such determinants is another mark of the extent to which social learning theory has embraced cognitivism, and abandoned its behaviorist roots.
Consistent with his origins as a learning theorist, Bandura himself has focused on social learning by example, as in imitation and modeling, and has had relatively little to say about social learning by precept. But other theorists have filled in this gap.
Michelle Kline, an anthropologist at UCLA, has written an analysis of teaching that goes way beyond the sorts of "sponsored teaching" that is characteristic of Western education, and entertains the proposition -- denied by some theorists -- that teaching occurs in indigenous, aboriginal cultures, and even in nonhuman animals. Her basic argument is that teaching has clear adaptive value. It enables learners to acquire knowledge that would be difficult to acquire independently, either through direct experience or mere observation -- but which is common enough that others, potential teachers, would already possess it. Because of its adaptive value, Kline argues that it is not reasonable to suppose that even aboriginal people engage in it -- and nonhuman animals might, as well.
Interestingly, Kline does not cite Bandura anywhere -- perhaps a testament to the strength of disciplinary silos. Still, much as Bandura did, she identifies two broad mechanisms for social learning:
Kline also offers a number
of definitions of "teaching",
intended to capture how knowledge might be
taught in non-literate, indigenous cultures, as well as by
Viewed from this broad functional perspective, Kline then identifies a wide variety of activities that, technically, constitute "teaching":
Given this definition of teaching, and the wide variety of
activities that can constitute it, Kline argues that teaching is not
unique to advanced, literate societies, but can be observed in
indigenous cultures as well. And maybe even chimpanzees and
crows -- species that are, by now, well known to engage in social
learning by observation.
Social Learning and Culture
Bandura's theory is, in a sense, the apotheosis of social learning theory:
Observational learning, by both
example and precept, is the cognitive basis
of culture and cultural transmission. And thinking --
that is, manipulating and transforming what one has learned --
is the cognitive basis of cultural evolution.
The next step in the evolution of cognitive theories of personality was taken by Walter Mischel (1968, 1969, 1973a, 1973b, 1977, 1979, 1981). Mischel has been in a singularly good position to move the field forward. He was a protege of Kelly and Rotter at Ohio State, and for many years a close colleague of Bandura at Stanford. Mischel's (1968) book, Personality and Assessment, offered a powerful challenge to traditional psychometric and psychodynamic approaches to personality, including a provocative critique of the coherence, consistency and predictability assumptions of the Doctrine of Traits. At the same time, it embraced social learning concepts as a viable alternative to the traditional viewpoints.
Like the 1963 theory of Bandura and Walters, Mischel's 1968 position was couched in behaviorist language, with many references to the specificity of stimulus-response relations, the role of reinforcement, generalization, and discrimination, and the importance of assessing behavior in specific situations rather than in general. However, by focusing on observational learning and self-reinforcement, it was clearly cognitive in nature. The charge of situationism, as applied to Mischel, is aptly rebutted by the following passage from the very monograph that stimulated it (Mischel, 1968, p. 189-190):
The phenomena of discrimination and generalization lead to the view that behavior patterns are remarkably situation specific, on the one hand, while also evocable by diverse and often seemingly heterogeneous stimuli on the basis of generalization effects. The person's prior experiences with related conditions and the exact details of the particular evoking situation determine the meaning of the stimuli -- that is, their effects on all aspects of his life.... [O]ne must know the properties or meaning that the stimulus has acquired for the subject.... Assessing the acquired meaning of stimuli is the core of social behavior assessment....
Mischel's focus on the acquired meaning of situations places his theory squarely in the social learning tradition. Although his earlier work (e.g., 1968) emphasized social learning processes, his later work (e.g., 1973) has emphasized the products of social learning and their role in behavior. Throughout, however, he has stressed the notion of discriminative facility: that behavior can be remarkably sensitive to apparently trivial changes in circumstances. Far from interpreting this as evidence for the inconsistency and unreliability of social behavior, Mischel sees it as highly functional. Indiscriminate behavior, by contrast, is held to be maladaptive and characteristic of disturbed or immature persons.
Far from assuming consistency (as the Doctrine of Traits does), a social learning analysis would seek to analyze the conditions under which consistency does and does not occur. For example, it appears that behavior is consistent across situations that are similar in terms of the behaviors demanded in them, or the consequences to be expected of various behaviors. However, these patterns of similarity will be relatively unique for each individual, reflecting the uniqueness of his or her history of social learning. "Idiosyncratic histories produce idiosyncratic stimulus meanings" (Mischel, 1973, p. 259). Like Rotter and Bandura, Mischel departs from a strict behaviorist analysis by de-emphasizing the importance of objective stimulus attributes or reinforcement contingencies. "The meaning and impact of a stimulus can be modified dramatically by cognitive transformations" (1973, p. 260, emphasis in the original).
These cognitive transformations may be illustrated in an experiment on delay of gratification in children. Children were promised a reward of highly preferred snack food for performing a task. After completing the activity, they were asked to wait for the reward, though if they preferred not to wait they could immediately receive a less-preferred snack as a reward instead. Those children who were seated in front of the promised reward delayed gratification only a relatively short time -- especially if they were instructed to focus on such consummatory qualities as its taste. By contrast, children who were instructed to mentally transform the food into something without consummatory qualities, they were able to delay considerably longer. Finally, children who were asked to imagine the reward in front of them, even though it was not actually present, delayed only a relatively short time. Thus, behavior was under the control of mental representations of the reward, rather than the objective stimulus input.
These mental representations, in turn, reflect the operation of cognitive processes involved in selectively perceiving and interpreting stimulus events. These processes are the source of both inter-individual and intra-individualist differences in behavior -- that is, differences observed between individuals responding to the same objective stimulus situation, and differences observed when a single individual responds to two different situations. The child who can perform the proper cognitive transformation will be able to delay longer than the child who cannot do so. Moreover, the child who can perform the transformation will delay longer when he or she actually does so, compared to times when it fails to occur. Thus, behavior is largely under cognitive control. Analyzing the cognitive determinants of behavior leads to a new conception of the important variables in personality.
This emphasis on the
subjective meaning of the situation marked Mischel's early theory as cognitive in nature.
Since that time, Mischel (1973, 1979, 1981) has broadened his
conceptualization of personality to include a wide variety of
different constructs. Some of these are derived from the earlier
work of Kelly, Rotter, and Bandura, while others reflect the
importation into personality theory of concepts originating in
the laboratory study of human cognitive processes. All are
construed as modifiable individual differences, products of
cognitive development and social learning, that determine how
features of the situation will be perceived and interpreted.
Thus, they contribute to the construction of the meaning of the
stimulus situation -- in other words, to the cognitive
construction of the situation itself -- to which the person
ultimately responds. The following table provides a tentative
list of the kinds of person variables important in Mischel's cognitive social learning
reconceptualization of personality.
Mischel's Cognitive-Social Learning
|Cognitive and behavioral construction competencies|
|Encoding strategies and personal constructs|
|Self-regulatory systems and plans|
Perhaps the most important product of cognitive development and social learning is the individual's ability to engage in a wide variety of skilled, adaptive behaviors. "Behavior" is to be construed broadly, reflecting both overt action and covert mental activities. Thus, Mischel refers to the individual's repertoire of cognitive and behavioral construction competencies. The choice of terminology is deliberate: in the course of interacting with the world outside, the individual is literally constructing a life situation -- in his mind through various cognitive operations, and in reality through his behavior. The first step in predicting what a person will do in some situation, therefore, is assessing what that person can do. Mischel argues that individuals differ considerably in terms of the range of their competencies and the range of situations in which they can effectively apply them. Obviously, the number of behaviors determines the flexibility of the person's behavior. In a person with limited competencies, we can expect to see the same sorts of behaviors no matter what situation she is in. However, considerably more discriminative flexibility can be displayed by a person with the larger number of available responses -- provided, of course, that the person has the ability to discriminate among the various situations in the first place.
Gender role behavior provides an example of the role of competencies in behavioral flexibility. Highly gender-typed individuals tend to display only those attributes and behaviors, masculine or feminine, that are consistent with cultural prescriptions for their biological gender, male or female, and tend to inhibit those that are prescribed for persons of the opposite sex. By contrast, androgynous individuals comfortably display attributes and behaviors associated with both gender roles. Compared to masculine males, androgynous males perform better in situations demanding "feminine" behaviors of nurturance and empathy; similarly, androgynous females perform better than feminine females in situations demanding "masculine" assertiveness and dominance. In a sense, then, androgynes have more behaviors available to them, and so are able to cope effectively with a greater variety of situations.
A person can add competencies to his or her repertoire, but once acquired, they probably are never lost. Acting on these competencies may be under control of incentives, but the competencies themselves are not acquired anew every time they are used, and they remain available even in the face of considerable periods of disuse. Adults do not forget how to ride bicycles, even though they may not have exercised this skill since childhood. And even massive amounts of brain damage does little harm to the patient's abilities. Mischel suggests that the stability of these competencies contributes to the impression we have of stability in personality as a whole.
The importance of perception and interpretation of events in Mischel's system calls for a second set of person variables, having to do with encoding strategies and personal constructs. These variables most closely represent individual differences in cognitive transformations. Encoding strategies govern selective attention. New information entering the cognitive system must be transformed so that it can be assimilated to pre- existing knowledge. Two people may encode and organize the same event in quite different ways, and these differences in mental representation will be important determinants of individual differences in response. Given an ambiguous event, the person who selectively focuses on its positive attributes is likely to respond differently from one who focuses on the negative.
The characteristic encoding strategies, in turn, are shaped by the person's repertoire of personal constructs. Like his mentor, Mischel argues that people differ in the range of categories that they can apply to objects and events. A person who has a monolithic personal construct system organized around friendliness-hostility will have difficulty perceiving attributes of people that are irrelevant to that dimension. By the same token, a person with a very rich and highly differentiated personal construct system will be able to encode more information about them. Moreover, a person who chooses the friendliness pole will tend to see the socially desirable features in someone's personality, while her counterpart who chooses the hostility pole will see just the opposite. Again, the range and choice of personal constructs will be important determinants of behavior.
Following Rotter and Bandura, Mischel also stresses the role of expectancies concerning the outcomes of events and behaviors. Mischel concludes from studies of human and nonhuman learning that organisms routinely form expectancies or hypotheses concerning environmental events and outcomes. Mischel classifies some hypotheses as stimulus-outcome expectancies. These are cues in the environment that permit us to predict what will happen in the future -- or at least we think they do. We may expect members of ethnic minority groups to be hostile, red-haired people to have fiery tempers, obese individuals to be jolly, men to be aggressive, women to be nurturant. As noted earlier, highly authoritarian people see others are competitive rather than cooperative. These expectations, whether right or wrong, have an obvious impact on our behavior towards these people -- and, by virtue of the self-fulfilling prophecy, on their behavior towards us.
Other hypotheses are classified as behavior-outcome expectancies, while still others concern self-efficacy. As in Bandura's theory, people select behaviors from their repertoire in terms of the subjective likelihood that these behaviors will accomplish their aims, and in terms of their own perceived ability to carry out those behaviors. All of these expectancies, acquired through classical and instrumental conditioning as well as social learning, in turn govern behavior in relevant stimulus situations. Whereas Rotter (1966) argued that expectancies could become highly generalized, as in the case of locus of control, Mischel argued that they were typically highly specific -- and that whatever generalization does occur will be highly idiosyncratic.
Also in line with Rotter's theory, Mischel noted that behavior will be governed by the subjective values associated with various outcomes. Situations can evoke emotions as well as behaviors, although the emotions themselves are often the product of cognitive transformations (Leventhal, 1984; Lazarus, 1982 Mandler, 1985; but see Zajonc, 1979, 1982). In general, people prefer those outcomes that they associate with positive feelings. Moreover, by virtue of social learning these values will also come to be associated with events that occur before and after these outcomes. It should be stressed that these values are entirely subjective, will vary from one individual and society to another. A child in a tribal culture may willingly undergo circumcision or tooth extraction, without benefit of any analgesics, because it is part of the ritual by which he attains adult status. Moreover, once acquired, stimulus values are amenable to modification by means of direct experience, precept, and example. Although most of us would prefer not to be cut open with knives, almost everyone would willingly choose such a procedure in order to cure a life-threatening disease. They are also quite discriminating: a stimulus that is aversive in one situation may be quite neutral or evoke pleasure in another.
The final set of variables consists of self-regulatory systems and plans. Here again, like Bandura, Mischel acknowledges that genuine self- regulation can occur through self-imposed goals and consequences, in the absence (or in spite) of social monitors and external constraints. These are essentially contingency rules stated in the form "if... then...". These terms can refer to behaviors and the situations in which they are appropriate (e.g., if I have an exam coming up then I should begin studying a week in advance), or alternatively in terms of behavior , or behaviors and the consequences that follow from them (e.g., if I get this paper drafted by Friday then I can go to the movies twice next weekend). In many cases, self-regulation proceeds according to a string of such rules. Such plans also include priority rules for determining the proper sequence of the individual behaviors and a stop rule for terminating the sequence when the goal is achieved or an unexpected barrier stands in the way.
In contrast to traditional psychometric and psychodynamic assessment (especially the latter), which is relatively indirect, Mischel proposes that most of these person variables can be assessed directly, through observation and self-report. Mischel suggests that procedures from the cognition laboratory sometimes may be useful for this purpose. However, Mischel (1968) also introduced the concept of utility into psychometric theory, and so he is naturally concerned with the efficiency of any personality assessment. According to Mischel, investigators should not assume that people have to be tricked into telling the truth about themselves, or that assessment procedures that utilize high technology are necessarily superior to those that do not. The best assessment technique will be that which gives the best prediction at the lowest cost.
Implicit in Mischel's theory is that most people have conscious access to their competencies, encoding strategies, personal constructs, expectations, values, and plans. Most people know what they can do and where they are headed, and most can articulate their preferences and aversions as well. From the point of view of utility, then, assessment should begin with self-report -- by asking the individual to reflect candidly on him- or herself. Only if this tactic fails to yield good prediction should some other ploy be attempted. As an instructive point, Mischel (1969) describes a study (in which he participated) that attempted to predict the success of volunteers for the Peace Corps. Each volunteer underwent an extensive series of clinical interviews and psychological tests, on the basis of which a panel of judges made a prediction concerning his or her likelihood of succeeding in the program. As is uniformly found to be the case (Wiggins, 1973), such assessments were very poor at discriminating those who would succeed from those who would fail. However, a considerably higher correlation with success was obtained from the volunteer's own self-predictions, obtained under a promise of confidentiality. This kind of evidence, coupled with the validity of simple self-rating scales when compared to carefully (and expensively) constructed personality inventories, suggests that people can indeed tell us a good deal of interest about themselves -- if only the questions are framed properly.
It should be clear that Mischel's (1973) list of person variables is really a taxonomic scheme. That is, Mischel argues that cognitive competencies are important determinants of behavior, but makes no attempt to provide an exhaustive list of what the important cognitive competencies are. This is in contrast to the traditional psychometric and psychodynamic approaches, which were concerned with determining the basic traits or motives or defenses that governed behavior. Mischel's list of categories is incomplete, in that further research may require new classes of variables to be added. But it is incomplete in a more important way, in that the specific variables to be assessed within each category must be determined individually, considering both the person and the situation to which he or she will be required to respond.
Given that both persons and situations are assessed, which are more important in controlling behavior? For Mischel, the answer must be given in cognitive terms. Behavior is determined by the person's mental representation. This representation, in turn, is determined by various cognitive transformations applied to stimulus information. In any particular situation, the individual's behavior will be determined by the skills necessary for successful coping (and whether they are available in the individual's repertoire), the manner in which the situation is perceived and interpreted by the individual, the expected outcomes of events and actions and the values attached to these outcomes, and the manner in which the situation fits into the person's short- and long-term plans. On the other hand, mental representations are not totally unconstrained, and their are limits on the power of cognitive processes to transform situational stimuli.
The power of a situation to control behavior may be measured, then, in terms of the extent to which all persons in that situation would encode the same attributes, have the same expectancies, value the same outcomes, and the like. Conversely, the power of the person to control behavior is measured in terms of individual differences along these same lines. It follows, then, that in highly structured, unambiguous situations stimulus variables will swamp any person variables. By the same token, loosely structured, ambiguous situations -- in which there are no clear expectations and almost any response will be appropriate -- will elicit behavior that is determined by the person's momentary or long-standing predilections.
However, most situations are neither
so tightly structured as a totalitarian regime's
prison camp or as ambiguous as a psychiatrist's
inkblot test. Most real-life situations will permit a range of
behaviors, but forbid others, and the final outcome will
represent a sort of compromise between situational demands and
personal preferences. In the final analysis, the question of
relative importance is unanswerable, and irrelevant. Behavior is
the product of the interaction of the person and the situation,
and prediction -- not to mention understanding -- requires that
we consider both separately, as well as their effects on each
other. This kind of interaction is the sort observed in cases of
reciprocal determination, such the self-fulfilling prophecy.
Those analyses, raised the question of how the contributions of
the person to the cycle of reciprocal causation were to be
construed. The answer of cognitive social learning theory is
clear. Because the impact of the situation is cognitively
mediated, analysis of contributions of person variables must
focus on cognitive constructs such as those outlined by Rotter,
Bandura, and Mischel.
These considerations give rise to a distinction between two kinds of consistency.
Mischel argues that while Type 1 consistency
is pretty weak, Type 2 consistency is stronger. This is
because each individual has a characteristic interpretation of a
various situations (or classes of situations), leading to specific, distinctive, patterns of behavior from one situation to
another. Put another way, "dispositions are
situationally hedged" (Mischel, 2004, p. 5). It's as if
people follow a rule like "If I'm in
a peer-group situation, then I'll be
friendly". Someone else might have a rule like "If
I'm in a work situation, then I'll be friendly".
Following this line of argument, Mischel (e.g., Mischel & Shoda, 1995) conceptualizes the person-situation interaction in terms of person-situation profiles, modeled on the statistical analysis of variance (ANOVA). Recall the discussion of statistical interactions from the lectures on The Cognitive Perspective on Social Interaction.
And, just to be clear, Mischel construes the "situation" as the psychological
situation -- that is, the meaning of the situation, as
subjectively interpreted by the person.
The Cognitive-Affective Personality System
situation-behavior relations, or behavioral signatures, in turn, are mediated by what Mischel (e.g., Mischel & Shoda, 1995) calls the cognitive-affective
personality system (CAPS).
Gossip as Social Learning
is about the acquisition of knowledge through
experience. Social learning is about the acquisition
of knowledge through social interaction. Although
traditional formulations have emphasized such
"nonverbal" processes as imitation and observation,
Bandura drew attention to learning by precept as well
as learning by example. The clearest example of
learning by precept is what parents and teachers do
when they deliberately convey information to their
children and students. Obviously, learning by precept
is mediated mostly by language -- by one person
talking with another, and thereby sharing information.
Informally, this information exchange is known as gossip, which the sociologist Timothy Hallett (2009) has defined as "unsanctioned evaluative talk about people who aren't present". Gossip appears to be universal in human social groups. But while we usually think of gossip as a bad thing, it has its positive aspects. For example, the anthropologist Robin Dunbar, in Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language (1996) has argued that gossip plays an essential role in binding people together into groups (Dunbar has also suggested that the number of people with whom a single individual can maintain stable social relationships is about 150 -- a limitation that, he says, is imposed by the size of the human brain). Matt Feinberg and his colleagues at UCB (who include Robb Willer, Jennifer Stellar, and Dacher Keltner) has defined a category of prosocial gossip which shares negative information about a target in such a way as to protect group members against exploitation and other antisocial behaviors.
But whether it's prosocial or antisocial, gossip is a mode of social learning -- the acquisition of knowledge, indirectly through others, about someone else.
The next step in the evolution of cognitive social learning theory has been to take these sorts of variables and translate them into the vocabulary of contemporary cognitive psychology, thus bringing the psychology of personality into even closer articulation with scientific knowledge concerning mental processes in general. This project lies at the core of the social intelligence view of personality proposed by Cantor and Kihlstrom (1987; see also Kihlstrom & Cantor, 2000, 2010).
The concept of social intelligence was first articulated by E.L. Thorndike, a prominent learning theorist, in 1920:
By social intelligence is meant the ability to understand and manage men and woman, boys and girls -- to act wisely in human relations.In another early essay, Vernon (1933) identified several different aspects of social intelligence:
Thorndike's and Vernon's views exemplify what Kihlstrom and Cantor (2010) call the ability view of social intelligence -- that is, the view that social behavior can be classified as more or less "smart" or "stupid". In the ability view, what might be called "social IQ" is analogous to "academic" IQ, and consists of a number of abilities, or competencies, in which there are wide individual differences.
Unfortunately, the GWTSI never really caught on, and social intelligence was not incorporated into the dominant theories of intelligence.
Later, however, another prominent intelligence theorist, J.P. Guilford (1967), incorporated something very much like social intelligence into his "Structure of Intellect" theory of intelligence. In Guilford's theory, every intelligent act entailed performing some operation on some content to deliver some product. In the final version of his theory, there were some 120 such combinations, implying that intelligence consisted of that many separate abilities -- far more than the 7 listed by Thurstone. Interestingly, one of the six categories of "products" was behavioral in nature, as opposed to figural, symbolic, or semantic, and the "behavioral" products all entail social behavior. In this way, Guilford expressly made room for social intelligence in the form of various cognitive products.
A related concept is emotional intelligence, a concept first articulated by Peter Salovey and John Mayer (1990). (Salovey is now the president of Yale University.) In their analysis, emotional intelligence has four components:
Together with David Caruso, they have
produced the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso
Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT).
Daniel Goleman, a psychologist (Harvard PhD) turned popular-science writer, popularized Salovey and Meyer's work. Later, he did much the same thing for social intelligence, arguing that social interaction was mediated by a small set of dedicated brain modules supporting social awareness (i.e. of other people) and social facility (i.e., relationship management). Goleman's books on emotional and social intelligence have been best-sellers, very popular among business and management folks.
The ability view raises the question of the relationship between social intelligence and the forms of intelligence measured by traditional "IQ" tests, such as the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale and the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale. In his groundbreaking monograph on The Measurement and Appraisal of Adult Intelligence (1938), David Wechsler himself proposed that social intelligence is "just general intelligence applied to social situations". Unfortunately, as reviews by Landy and others have pointed out, psychometric studies have consistently shown that Wechsler's intuition is right: individual differences in social intelligence are highly correlated with traditional IQ measures, suggesting that social intelligence, however appealing intuitively, lacks discriminant validity.
But there's another view of social intelligence, which Kihlstrom and Cantor (2000, 2010) call the knowledge view. This view begins with the understanding that there are two meanings to the word intelligence:
Obviously, Thorndike's, and everyone else's, conception of social
intelligence is based on Definition 1. But Cantor and
Kihlstrom (1987) proceeded from the assumption that social
behavior is intelligent -- that is, it is engaged in by
sentient beings in pursuit of their goals, and mediated by
cognitions such as knowledge, belief, and expectations. This
fund of knowledge, beliefs, and expectations constitutes the
individual's fund of social intelligence, which he draws
on in the course of planning and executing intelligent social
behavior. It follows, then, that individual differences in
social behavior are the product of individual differences in
social knowledge. But unlike those theories based on the
ability view, the knowledge view doesn't propose any kind of test
to assess individual differences in social intelligence.
It's not at all interested in measuring individual differences
in some trait-like characteristic of personality. Instead,
the knowledge view seeks only to understand the general
social-cognitive processes out of which individual personality is
constructed. If you want to understand individual
differences in social behavior, you've got to understand
individual differences in social knowledge -- in social
|Link to a more thorough discussion of social intelligence, based on articles, co-authored with Nancy Cantor, which appeared in R.J. Sternberg (Ed.), Handbook of intelligence, (2nd ed., 2000; 3rd ed., 2010).|
This page last revised 12/07/2015.