Within-Person Variation in Personality and Psychological Well-Being
Churchyard, Jamie Stuart
Personality is one of the most broad and complex areas in psychology. This has led to many researchers attempting to reduce this complexity by focusing solely on how habitual personality differs between each individual (inter-individual differences). This is important to study, but it has been focused on so heavily that research into how each individual personality varies within the person (intra-individual differences) has been neglected in comparison. Recent research has started to examine intra-individual variation in personality more thoroughly. One research aim of this programme was to establish the nature of several different types of within person variability including inter-item variation (variation within the test responses for a personality trait), and cross-contextual variation in personality (variation according to context), to see whether these types of variability are associated with psychological outcomes. Three research questions were examined to this end: 1) What is the extent of meaningful variability in personality trait test responding? 2) What are the predictors of intra-individual variability in personality? 3) What is the relative importance of the person and situational factors in personality variability? The first question was developed to try and determine whether the individual can display meaningful inter-item variation in ratings of specific behaviours within personality trait measures. Trait questionnaires are usually only analysed at the between subject level, and within subject variation in inter-item ratings have not been extensively examined in relation to meaningful psychological outcomes. The second and third questions were developed to look into the nature of cross-contextual personality, and establish whether within person personality differences are influenced more strongly by the person or situation. The studies conducted towards answering these questions demonstrated a person-based capacity to display intra-individual variability. A second aim of the research programme was to see whether the capacity to display these types of variability can be utilised in behaviour change. The fourth research question was developed to try and understand how a person can display intra-individual variability, yet still be resistant to changing negative habits: 4) How do the different aspects in personality variability help explain why some people are resistant to change, especially with regard to behaviours that are bad for them? This question was answered by theoretically discussing the findings from the three previous studies which proposed that positive or problematic behaviour could be interpreted with a simple path to understand the process of behavioural action: The individual receives feedback from a behaviour response which either validates or invalidates their action in the situation context (does or does not receive a desired outcome). Reinforcement of the behaviour happens if it is validated by positive feedback. Alternately reconstruction of the situation happens if the behaviour is invalidated. This allows for two types of intra-individual variability. One is flexibility in behaviour responses to different situations under the individual’s control. The other is change according to the situation, where the behaviour is invalidated and an alternative is attempted. A problematic behaviour may have benefit in stopping something invalidating, but if repeated it may become a habit needed for psychological functioning. As part of the second research aim a behaviour change strategy was developed and piloted to try and bring the individual closer to their construct of the ideal self. Instructions were provided for the individual to experiment with that differed from their disposition. The programmes had varied degrees of success depending on the participant. The implications for personality research and behaviour change are discussed.