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Personality and the Construal of Situations


The same situation may be perceived to have different qualities depending on who is making the assessment of the situation. Since situations have important implications for behavior, there is clearly value in pursuing an understanding of how people's perceptions of situations differ and what the predictors of these differences might be. However, few researchers have investigated this topic and none have examined its relationship to situations in a comprehensive manner. Following the development of the Riverside Situational Q-Sort (RSQ: Wagerman & Funder, 2009) it has become possible to assess the manner in which individuals idiosyncratically construe a wide variety of situational features in ways that can be compared across very different situations. This dissertation examines personality's relationship to the broad individual difference variable "Distinctiveness of Situational Construal" which is defined here as the cumulative assessment of the discrepancy between an individual's distinctive description of a situation and a more consensual view of the situation. In each of three studies, the RSQ was used to assess participants' perceptions of situational stimuli. Study 1 featured two brief video scenarios as situational stimuli. Study 2 featured three Thematic Apperception Test images, and Study 3 featured situations experienced by the subjects in a laboratory setting. A variety of methods for quantifying construal were also evaluated in relation to each of these studies. The results indicate that distinctiveness of situational construal is quantifiable in a meaningful manner, that a person's tendency towards distinctive construal is stable across different situations, that this tendency towards distinctive construal has meaningful personality correlates, and that the patterns of these correlates replicate across three separate studies. Among the findings; extraversion and depression were positively correlated with distinctiveness of situational construal. Common CAQ correlates of distinctiveness of construal included items signifying independence, assertiveness, distrust, and even malicious traits. Common personality correlates of normativity included items signifying interpersonal warmth and sympathy, interest in intellectual and aesthetic concerns, as well as tendencies towards suppression of self and discomfort with uncertainties. Overall this dissertation demonstrates that distinctiveness of construal can be quantified across a variety of situations and that the potential applications are myriad.

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