Variations on a Theme of Within-Person Variation
Variation characterizes much of everyday life. People's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are not static, but change depending on who they are, where they are, and with whom they are. For personality psychologists interested in describing this variation, new and low-cost methods of assessment can describe how people differ from each other on average, as well as how people differ from their own average across multiple real-life situations and social interactions. Researchers use such within-person methods to develop sophisticated models of personality, emotion, and self-esteem that aim to represent real-life variance in experience.
In this dissertation, I extend this within-person approach to the study of emotion regulation and social hierarchy. Researchers consider emotion regulation and social hierarchy to be domains of psychological life that serve important social functions. Yet few studies have examined these domains in real-life social interactions, and no research has examined how these domains change across a person's everyday life.
In Chapter 1, I introduce the topic of within-person variation more formally with a review of key concepts and differences from other approaches to psychology. Specifically, I argue that a within-person approach is fundamental for researchers to understand psychological processes. I then summarize the methods of assessment and analysis that I will use in this dissertation, and develop three broad research questions about within-person processes that guide my empirical research.
In Chapter 2, I present research on within-person variation in expressive suppression – a strategy that people use to regulate their emotions by hiding expressions in the face and body. In contrast to past research that emphasizes the negative consequences of stable suppression use, I find evidence that suppression use can serve adaptive functions when used in specific situations.
In Chapter 3, I focus my within-person approach on the study of social hierarchy. Although past theory differentiates social power (a person's ability to exert influence or control in a situation) from social status (a person's respect or reputation) and from social class (a person's rank in society), these three related dimensions of social hierarchy are not well-differentiated at the empirical level. In this chapter, I demonstrate ways in which accounting for within-person variation supports existing theory and offer new insights that differentiate these related hierarchical dimensions.
Together, the findings reported in these two chapters demonstrate the prevalence and potential of within-person variation in psychological research. In Chapter 4, I summarize the major findings in the two empirical chapters, discuss the broader implications and limitations of this research and within-person methods of assessment more broadly, and conclude with suggested ideas for future research.