Quotations about


approaches to human behaviour and experience

The reality of 'personhood' is a fundamental proposition for trait psychology, for depth psychology and probably for Western civilization. The personologist's proposition is that our world is substantially composed of and created by people who have their own essential natures, propensities and histories, and who operate as causal agents. Yet, however wide its acceptance, this central, personological claim also encounters scepticism. The philosopher, David Hume, seemed to himself, on inward inspection, "nothing but a bundle of sensations"; and modern social scientists balk at the claim's 'individualism' and its implied restriction on the hypothetical influence of social environment and cultural context.

From 1968, with the publication of Walter Mischel's Personality and Assessment, personological claims came under fire from psychologists who were giving up the study of the rat while remaining loyal to the elemental principles of 'stimulus-response' (S-R) behaviourism. The behaviourist insistence on the rag-bag and reflex-like nature of human action was thus to be applied by the new social psychologists to the phenomena of personality at just the time when it no longer seemed relevant to explaining human language, curiosity, creativity or, indeed, quite a lot of learning in animals. Not content with 'existentialism' (and related forms of 'idealism'-to the effect that we have no essence but only our existence and freedom to entertain ideas), working psychologists began publishing studies and reviews (notably in the prestigious journals, Psychological Bulletin and Journal of Personality & Social Psychology) offering mundane demonstrations of human behaviour appearing to be under 'situational' control. Perhaps out of background sympathies for existentialism, relativism, behaviourism or environmentalism (see Brand, 1996, The g Factor, Wiley DePublisher), but certainly out of an understandable disenchantment with the slight achievements of much twentieth-century 'personality testing' and 'personality theory', social psychologists examined three main possibilities:

(i)that human behaviour varies markedly across 'situations'-as between sitting an exam, partying, being trapped in a burning building, meeting one's mother-in-law, etc.;

(ii)that our behaviour changes markedly over time-as 'lifespan development' occurs and we are exposed to new challenges, rewards and, indeed, 'situations';

(iii)that behaviour is an interactive product of both personality and situation-rather as a love affair will be based on more than a simple addition of the 'amorous propensities' and 'sexual attractiveness' of the two partners.

By way of reply, theorists of 'personological' persuasion were inclined to make the following three types of observation.

(I) Cross-situational consistency and temporal continuity can in fact be detected -at least in some researches (using proper sampling of people, and sampling situations with the frequencies with which they naturally occur), and for some people (as people are easily able to tell the psychologist who asks), and for some traits (especially if they involve abilities).

(ii) At least in the modern West, most adults' 'situations'-not least their 'ongoing' situations-are largely chosen by people themselves. Thus many 'situations' that a particular person might find too stressful or too boring-and indeed generative of unusual behaviour-are avoided for the vast majority of the time by means of suitable choices of career, ski resort, romantic partner, etc.

(iii)Predicting 'person x situation' interactions (that Vincent marries Judith rather than Mary, say) is an exercise in which Vincent's 'personality', properly considered, may well be of considerable relevance. By a 'personality description' we often mean to register precisely that the person is 'likely to be affected in special ways by particular situational features' (in the present case, by a girl like Judith).

Whatever the general resolution of the 'person-situation debate', important contributions have been made that have sharpened the thinking of theorists of both 'situationalist' and 'personological' persuasions. An important development through the 1980's was the growing recognition by personality theorists of all kinds of the processes (both active and passive) whereby people select, are selected for and shape their own environments. {For consideration of the longer-term influence on people of their environments, see Quotes V-on the 'nature-nurture debate'.}.

(i) What is meant by 'personality'?

"Personality is at the heart of the West....Persona is the Latin word for the clay or wooden mask worn by actors in Greek and Roman theater. Its root is probably personare, "to sound through or resound": the mask was a kind of megaphone, projecting the voice to the farthest tiers of spectators. Over time, persona broadened in meaning to include the actor's role and then a social role or public function. Finally, it defined an individual under Roman law, as a citizen with rights and duties. We retain this sense in reverse in our "nonperson," a political victim. By late Latin, persona became a person as we now understand it, a human being apart from his social status."

Camille PAGLIA, 1992, Sex, Art, and American Culture. New York : Random House (Vintage Books).

"The psychology of personality in an organized form goes back only to the 1930's.... The term 'personality' was not....in its origins a psychological one; it was dramatic, theological, legal and grammatical. The concept of the soul was the unifying concept of psychology in the early stages of its development. Individual differences were subsumed under the heading 'character'.... [In] the first general book on the psychology of personality in English [R.G.Gordon (1926, Personality) declared] 'personality is essentially a practical entity and not a theoretical composition'."

L.S.HEARNSHAW 1987, The Shaping of Modern Psychology. London : Routledge.

"Personality is the dynamic organization within the individual of those psychophysical systems that determine his unique adjustments to his environment."

G.W.ALLPORT, 1937, Personality: A Psychological Interpretation. London : Constable.

"Personality is that which permits a prediction of what a particular person will do in a given situation."

Raymond B.CATTELL, 1965, The Scientific Study of Personality. Harmondsworth : Penguin.

"Crude misconceptions apart, 'personality', like 'intelligence, is a term which probably causes much less trouble to the informed-or even uninformed-layman than to the psychologist. Personality is commonly understood as what makes one man different from another.... It is recognized that although people are not always consistent in their behaviour, one can predict, up to a point, how a given man or woman will react in a given situation, and that one bases one's predictions on one's knowledge of that individual's personality."

Boris SEMEONOFF, 1966, in B.Semeonoff, Personality Assessment. Harmondsworth : Penguin.

"It may be helpful, as an illustration of the present conception of traits, to indicate how an expression like "X is sympathetic" might be partially explained by a set of subjective conditionals.... Subjective conditionals which we might regard as partial substitutes for "is sympathetic" would presumably include the following:

(1) "....would feel disturbed, other things being equal, if he perceived some sentient being to be in acute distress";

(2) "....would feel relieved if he perceived a being in distress in the process of being helped-provided he had earlier felt discomfort at the person's distress";

(3) "....would be motivated to relieve the distress (if he believed that he could do so and that no one else would if he did not)";

(4) "....would feel guilty, other things being equal, if he perceived distress he thought he could relieve, but did not (providing justifying or excusing considerations were absent)";

(5) "....would notice a case of distress if he were presented with it perceptually";

(6) "....would remember a previous case of distress if he had noticed it before and were now in a position to give relief".

Character traits are possibly somewhat like physical abilities: athletes have their off days, and we cannot predict precisely how well a given high-jumper will do on a given day."

R.B.BRANDT, 1970, American Philosophy Quarterly 7.

"To [Kurt] Schneider [the influential author of Psychopathic Personalities, 1912] 'personality' was a word used to convey someone's uniqueness, including his or her individual feelings and goals. It should be described in psychological terms, although it does not include the attributes usually referred to as intelligence."

Kevin STANDAGE, 1989, British Journal of Psychiatry 155.

"Still something is lacking. A human personality is more than personality characteristics, and thoughts, or life-styles. Gordon Allport said that personality 'is what lies behind specific acts and within the individual'. Therefore, we need other concepts and means of study to disclose changes in the concealed side of personality."

Lea PULKKINEN, 1992, European Journal of Personality 6.

(ii) Situationalist challenges.

"The minds of men do in the weather share

Dark or serene as the day's foul or fair."


"In general, we are what the situation calls for-a respectable person before our preacher and parents, a hero in front of the ladies, a teetotaller in one group, a bibulous good fellow in another."

J.B.WATSON, 1931, Behaviorism. London : Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co.

"Ichheiser (1943)....noted the role of socio-political factors in personality research. He pointed out that the over-estimation of the role of personal factors and the under-estimation of situational factors....had their roots in the social system and ideology of nineteenth-century liberalism."

Norman S. ENDLER, 1987, in D.N.Jackson & J.P.Rushton, Scientific Excellence. London : Sage.

"With the possible exception of intelligence, highly generalised behavioral consistencies have not been demonstrated, and the concept of personality traits as broad response dispositions is thus untenable."

Walter MISCHEL, 1968, Personality and Assessment.

"....it is obvious that a study of human behavior requires, first and foremost, a study of the social context within which people move, the expectations as to how they will behave, and the authority which tells them who they are and what they are supposed to do."

Naomi WEISSTEIN, 1973, in A.Koedt et al., Radical Feminism, New York, Quadrangle.

"The social psychology of this century reveals a major lesson: often, it is not so much the kind of person a man is as the kind of situation in which he finds himself that determines how he will act."

S.MILGRAM, 1974, Obedience to Authority. London : Tavistock.

"There is a slow trend in psychology in general away from 'personality' as an explanatory variable in favour of the specificity of behaviour in particular situations."

Sonja HUNT, 1979, British Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 18.

"Perhaps the most important issue in current personality theory is the problem of the cross-situational stability of personality traits."

A.J.LAZZERINI et al., 1979, British Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 18.

"....courage is best considered fundamentally as a property of individual acts rather than as a long-term property of character."

D.N.WALTON, 1986, Courage: a Philosophical Investigation. University of California Press.

"Boys are more likely than girls to spend time hanging around on the street at night, especially in groups, and therefore are more likely to commit acts such as burglary and violence, which may often arise in this social situation."

D.P.FARRINGTON (a senior criminologist at the University of Cambridge), 1987, in H.C.Quay, Handbook of Juvenile Delinquency. New York : Wiley DePublisher.

"Behavior is coherent and lawful, i.e. patterns of behavior are both consistent and specific."

N.S.ENDLER, 1988, Abstract of Paper 2266, to 24th International Congress of Psychology, in Sydney.

"In spite of the supposed malleability of human beings, many people fail or refuse to fit it; all societies have their deviants, and totalitarian ones their dissidents. But social behaviourism rejects the idea of any underlying human nature."

Peter MOREA, 1990, Personality. Harmondsworth : Penguin.

"All ambulance staff feel a deep revulsion for the situation they find themselves in...."

Dave CHAFFREY (West Sussex Branch Secretary of the National Union of Public Employees, speaking after the death of a 37- year-old man whom striking ambulance staff had twice refused to resuscitate), reported in Sunday Times, 14 i 1990.

"The situation is in a totally unsatisfactory state."

Junior Government Minister, discussing twenty newly announced political killings in Jerusalem, BBC IV UK Six o' Clock News, 11 x 1990.

"The war situation has developed not necessarily to our advantage."

Japan's Emperor HIROHITO, 1945, announcing Japan's surrender after the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 15 viii.

"....it has been argued that there are no significant differences between men who do and do not rape, and that mere opportunity may be one of the most important factors (Petty & Dawson, 1989, Person. & Indiv. Diffs.)."

Tanya GARRETT & Brian THOMAS-PETER, 1992, The Psychologist 5, vii.

"....members of the general public, in England and Holland.... took part in microcomputer-based simulations of small business behaviour which embedded tax reporting in a range of decisions.... Opportunity to evade [tax] emerges as the principal explanatory variable, though....individual differences related to age, gender and attitude to tax evasion in real life also appear causally related."

G.FOXALL, 1992, The Psychologist 5, xii.

""Deceit," say Hartshorne & May (1928-30), "is not a unified trait." This thesis is developed by the authors in certain passages which suggest that, influenced by the doctrines of Watsonian behaviourism, they paid more attention to the obvious inconsistencies of behaviour disclosed by their enquiries than to the less detectable consistencies. Every schoolmaster knows, and everyone with administrative experience of men and women likewise knows, that some people are generally honest and trustworthy while others are not. It is a matter of common observation that some boys are not receptive to moral influences; they gravitate towards boys of bad character, assimilate their standards, and model themselves accordingly. Such boys are easily conditioned, but only in certain directions. Other boys show opposite susceptibilities."

C.P.BLACKER, 1952, Eugenics: Galton and After. London : Duckworth.

(iii) Interactionist options?

"There have now been a number of studies which attempted to apportion the variance in social behaviour to Persons, Situations and Persons x Situations interaction. The present consensus, however, is that no precise variance figures can be arrived at...."

M.ARGYLE et al., 1978.

"We are all now 'interactionists'."

D.J.BEM, 1983, in M.M.Page, Personality: Current Theory and Research. Lincoln, Nebraska : University of Nebraska.

"We believe that two dimensions of motivation (arousal and effort) can be used to summarize the interactive effects of situational moderators and personality traits."

M.S.HUMPHREYS & W.REVELLE, 1984, Psychological Review 91.

"Personality research has now progressed from simply attempting to demonstrate that trait-behaviour relationships exist to a new phase which focuses on the identification of factors that moderate the strength of the trait-behaviour relationship."

S.G.WEST, 1986, Journal of Personality 54.

"Slowly withering are theories that conceive of stabilized structures of the mind. Increasing attention is being given to ongoing, interactive processes where persons are actively engaged with their ecological surrounds. This shift in concern is also manifested in neo-behaviourist theories of person-by-situation interaction. It is more clearly apparent in dramaturgical theories, dialectic theory, lifespan development formulations, and the ethnomethodology of the self."

Kenneth J. GERGEN, 1987, in K.Yardley & T.Honess, Self and Identity: Psychosocial Perspectives. Chichester : Wiley DePublisher.

"....trait theories of personality are inherently interactive: behavior can rarely be predicted solely on the basis of traits..... Our research illustrates the use of a theory of stable individual differences to predict what may appear to be behavioral instability: introverts and extraverts do not consistently differ in a simple way in their cognitive performance. Rather, whether they differ and, if so, in what direction, can be shown to depend on theoretically relevant aspects of the situation (e.g. the level of stress and the difficulty of the task.... [Similarly] the dimension of impulsivity may reflect individual differences in the rate of change in activation in response to the environment...."

William REVELLE & Kristen J. ANDERSON, 1992, in A.Gale & M.W.Eysenck, Handbook of Individual Differences: Biological Perspectives. Chichester : Wiley DePublisher.

"Although nine out of ten women who had breakdowns [in Brown & Harris, 1978, The Social Origins of Depression; 1989, Life Events and Illness] had suffered at least one severe even or difficulty, only a fifth of those who experienced such an event or difficulty broke down. [There were four vulnerability factors-single, maternal loss before 11, several young children, unemployed-which operated by increasing the risk of breakdown only if an event occurred.] Severe events and difficulties, in conjunction with vulnerability factors...explained much of the incidence of depression among the urban women.... by far the largest proportion of psychiatric distress is occasioned not by anything intrinsically wrong with them, but by serious adversities in people's lives."

Keith OATLEY, 1992, Best Laid Schemes: the Psychology of the Emotions. New York : Cambridge University Press.

"....it is perfectly simple to determine the pattern of the variance components by carefully selecting the Person, Situation and Response variables to suit one's own end. Thus if a very homogeneous sample of mental patients are asked to indicate their responses to a variety of mundane, everyday situations, the Person variance is likely to be very low...."

A.FURNHAM & J.JASPARS, 1983, Personality & Individual Differences 4.

"It is certainly true that some people are made anxious by one situation, [and] some by another.... The common sense of this point led to a spate of research on "interactionism", apparently aimed at clarifying the degree to which behavior could be predicted from the person, the situation, and the interaction of the two (see D.Magnusson & N.S.Endler (eds), 1977, Personality at the Crossroads). This pursuit has hardly produced profound discoveries, or even led to greater clarity about the issues involved. On the one hand, the interactionist claim is a truism, as it appears perfectly obvious that different people do behave and react differently in the same context, and that the same person behaves and reacts differently in different contexts. No one, presumably, thought that this was not so. Eysenck, for instance, explicitly described the interactionist position as a "non-issue" (L.Pervin, 1984, Personality, 4th edn)."

R.LAMB, 1986, 'The person / situation controversy'. In R.Harre & R.Lamb, Dictionary of Personality and Social Psychology. Oxford : Blackwell.

"[In person versus situation versus interaction debates] behaviour should really be seen as varying from situation to situation in a way which varies from person to person. It is misleading to see it as varying from one person-situation complex to another, as the P x S [interaction] formula seems to suggest."

D.D.CLARKE & R.HOYLE, 1988, Personality & Individual Differences 9.

"The cross-situational consistency issue is pivotal in the search for human nature; and the definitive study is the enormous 'Character Education Enquiry' carried out by Hartshorne and May in the 1920's.... [They] gave 11,000 elementary and high school students some 33 different behavioral tests of altruism, self-control and honesty in home, classroom, church, play and aesthetic contexts.... Altogether, more than 170,000 observations were collected.... The results showed that any one behavioral test correlated, on average, only .20 with any other test. If, however, the measures were aggregated into batteries, then much higher relationships were found, either with other combined behavioral measures, with teachers' ratings, or with the children's moral knowledge.... For example, the battery of tests measuring cheating by copying correlated .52 with another battery of tests measuring other types of classroom cheating."

J. Philippe RUSHTON, 1990, Canadian Journal of Criminology 32.

"....the people we know best and about whom we have the most information are indeed characterized by consistencies in their behaviour."

D.T.KENRICK & D.O.STRINGFIELD, 1980, Psychological Review 87.

"It is becoming more and more apparent that certain behaviour patterns are more influenced by characteristics on which individuals differ than by characteristics on which situations differ."


The Psychology of Work Behavior. Homewood, Ill. : Dorsey.

"When random samples of persons and situations are investigated, individual differences contribute more to total behavior variance than do situational differences."

Anne ANASTASI, 1983.

"....the apparently clear-cut distinction between trait and situation is in fact not very meaningful. Usually the name of a given trait also implies the situations in which it can be demonstrated and measured; thus a trait theory implies directly a taxonomy of situations."

H.J. & M.W. EYSENCK, 1985, Personality and Individual Differences: A Natural Science Approach. New York : Plenum.

"The main result of [the present] study has been the demonstration of consistent differences in response to strangers by individual infants."

P.K.SMITH & J.SLOBODA, 1986, British Journal of. Developmental Psychology 4.

"[This paper] points to the existence of set-related or dispositional mechanisms for regulating individual social behavior and suggests that there is need to analyze dispositional and set-related phenomena within the framework of some general dispositional personality structure."

Report in Psychological Abstracts 75, 1988, of a paper by V.A.YADOV, 1986, Soviet Psychology 24.

"When students were placed in a [Milgram-style] mock learning situation in which the subject could choose which level of electric shock to administer to a confederate [of the experimenter's, who 'failed to learn' under the student's instruction], Right-Wing Authoritarianism [e.g. believing in the importance of family, tradition and discipline] correlated .43 with the level of punishment chosen [by the student, to inflict on the confederate]."

Bob ALTEMEYER, 1988, Enemies of Freedom. San Francisco : Jossey-Bass.

"The principle of psychic determinism [maintained by psychoanalysis] posits that behavior is elicited not only by the current stimulus situation but, to a great extent, also by mental events that are residues of past experiences and that often are unconscious."

G.STRICKER & J.R.GOLD, 1988, Journal of Personality Disorders 2.

"French post-structuralism, among its many stupidities, denies that a coherent self exists. Academic nebbishes love this notion. Anyone interested in the performing arts knows that personality is a vitalistic, uncontrollable phenomenon. Talented performers and teachers have an electric power of personality, a charismatic magnitude and density."

Camille PAGLIA, 1992, Sex, Art, and American Culture. New York : Random House (Vintage Books).

(iv) The continuity of individual differences through time.

"The happiness and unhappiness of men depend as much on their turn of mind as on fortune."


"Stability of personality is....seen to depend solely upon permanence of environment, for as soon as a change takes place in the latter, the equilibria of the elements which form an individual's mental life are overthrown...."

G. LeBON, 1916, The Psychology of the Great War.

London : Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co.

"The concept of personality has run into serious difficulty....due mainly to the failure of tests to predict behaviour....and the lack of an agreed conceptual scheme."

Michael ARGYLE, 1972.

{Re 'lack of an agreed conceptual scheme', see Quotes III.}

"An estimated 20% of the personality-trait variance [in my analyses] is longitudinally consistent over a period of forty years of adulthood. This is a marked contrast to the 'less than 10% of the variance' of behaviour that the situationists have supposed to be associated with personality traits.... The large body of longitudinal data seems to indicate that, rather than attempting (as the situationists have done) to explain personality judgements in terms of social opinions and impressions, it will probably be necessary to use personality traits to explain social opinions and impressions."

J.J.CONLEY, 1984, Personality & Individual Differences 5.

"Several recent studies of the continuity of personality have even impressed some of trait psychology's gloomier critics.... g's year to year reliability is .99 (judging by its stability over many years), while that of n (neuroticism) is .98."

C.R.BRAND, 1984, in J.Nicholson & Halla Beloff, Psychology Survey 5. Leicester : British Psychol. Society.

"From a review of the recent literature on the consistency of personality and the predictive validity of self-report measures, it can be concluded that traits are alive and well."

M.AMELANG & P.BORKENAU, c. 1985, in A.Angleitner & J.S.Wiggins, Personality Assessment via Questionnaires.

"Longitudinal studies have demonstrated that the outcome of a marriage is only moderately{!} predictable from information available before the marriage.... The five longitudinal studies reporting overall estimates of the predictors-criterion correlation are in rough agreement on a figure in the .50 to .60 range."

E. Lowell KELLY & J.J.CONLEY, 1987, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 52.

"Results from the age-21 data [when compared with 'at-maturity' measures given to c.100 women at age 43] indicate that competence and ego level are enduring trait complexes."

Ravenna HELSON & P.WINK, 1987, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 53.

"[A highly visible case of personality change, noted by Zick Rubin (1981, Psychology Today 15)] is that of Richard Alpert. This ambitious assistant professor of psychology at Harvard tunes into drugs, heads for India, and returns as Baba Ram Dass, a long-bearded mystic in a flowing white robe who teaches people to 'be here and now'. But do [such] changes in appearance reflect personality change? Zick Rubin quotes psychologist David McClelland, who was a colleague of Richard Alpert at Harvard and who, two decades later, spent time with Baba Ram Dass. McClelland responded: "Same old Dick-still charming, still as power-oriented as ever.""

Lawrence S. WRIGHTSMAN, 1988, Personality Development in Adulthood. Newbury Park, California : Sage.

"Police Constable Martin Proctor [age 28, was today] awarded his fifth commendation for bravery, the latest for dragging a woman from the path of an Underground train.... His previous bravery commendations were for disarming a man with a knife, clinging to a burglar who slipped on a wet roof, and tackling a deranged man who had a knife and a machete."

Reported by David SAPSTEAD, 1988, 'Policeman with a habit of bravery'. The Times, 29 ii.

"[In a 36-year follow up of a national birth cohort] a number of early characteristics were significantly [though modestly] related to adult outcome, including enuresis, nail-biting, speech problems, truancy, and composite indices of behaviour and personality. Continuity was not explained by factors acting independently on child and adult measures."

B.RODGERS (UK Medical Research Council National Survey of Health and Development), 1990, Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 31.

"If act-frequencies are observed in the field over extended time periods, trait-relevant behaviour is highly stable temporally as well as consistent across situations and manifestations of a trait; various indices of dominance and prosocial behaviour correlate at around .70 (Small et al., 1983, J.Personality)."

D.P. McADAMS, 1992, 'The five-factor model in personality: a critical appraisal.' Journal of Personality 60.

"....Mozart had the unpredictable income of a free-lancer, vulnerable to threats from the state of the economy, the fickle tastes of the Viennese public, and the sabotage of his enemies.... by the late 1780's Mozart was also intermittently but seriously ill.... His physical decline, and [his wife's] spread its desperation into all corners of his life. Yet his boyish spirits never entirely slacked, and neither did the inexorable flow of his inspiration. In one incredible span of six weeks in the summer of 1788, his fortunes at their lowest ebb, he wrote his final three symphonies, nos. 39-41. In these works he brought Classical symphonic form to the highest perfection it would reach...."

Jan SWAFFORD, 1992, The New Guide to Classical Music. New York : Random House (Vintage Books).

"It is curious....how some things do not change with time. {Francis} Crick (according to The Double Helix) was the cautious one, {James} Watson the mercurial fellow oscillating between enthusiasm and doubt. It is still like that."

J.MADDOX, 1993, Nature 362, 11 iii.

(v) Transactionist options?

"Man's character is his fate."


"Sweet are the uses of adversity."

From Shakespeare's As You Like It.

"The world is a looking glass, and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face. Frown at it, and it will in turn look sourly upon you: laugh at it and with it, and it is a jolly kind companion; and so let all young persons take their choice."

W.M.THACKERAY, 1847, Vanity Fair.

"1st Gent. Our deeds are fetters that we forge ourselves.

2nd Gent. Ay, truly: but I think it is the world that brings the iron."

Quoted {perhaps from Shakespeare} by George Eliot

in 'Middlemarch' (start of Chapter 4).

"People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don't believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can't find them, make them."

George Bernard SHAW, cited by C.Cooper, 1987, Times Higher Educational Supplement, 2 x.

"In 'The stimulus-response fallacy in psychology', L.L.Thurstone (1923, Psychol. Review 30) rejected the causal chain, stimulus- response framework, and substituted a 'causal sequence....starting with the dynamic living self'. Stimuli then become '....merely the environmental facts in terms of which [the person] expresses himself'.... Thurstone also rejected the whole mechanistic approach associated with the stimulus-response scheme."

A.STILL, 1987, British Journal of Mathematical & Statistical Psychology 40.

"[My] principles put into the shade the impoverished 'reaction' theories, which view all that transpires in the person, even mental activity, solely as processes of response to environmental stimuli. While such a conception may be efficacious to a considerable extent in zoology (although even here it is insufficient by itself) it is at all events wholly inadequate for human beings. Those specifically human modes of living that are accompanied in large measure by experience are certainly never consummated through mere responses; under them, on the contrary, the person has in his own right a determinative effect upon the world; his relations with the world are extended and multiplied by reason of his spontaneous activities. The world is the point of attack, the raw material for these spontaneous actions, though it also proceeds to offer resistance, and to set limits, so that spontaneous action is integrated with reaction, and is thereby made specific."

W.STERN, 1938, General Psychology from the Personalistic Standpoint. New York : Macmillan.

"....since human hearts are not made in factories, but grow, this means taking seriously the natural emotional constitution which people are born with, as well as their social conditions."

Mary MIDGLEY, 1984, Wickedness. London : Ark.

"The [laboratory] experiment, with its defining characteristics of the creation of differing social situations by means of experimental manipulations, and the random assignment of participants to these differing social situations, may be a methodology that provides minimal opportunity for investigators to witness manifestations of personality...."

M.SNYDER & W.ICKES, 1985, in G.Lindzey & E.Aronson, Handbook of Social Psychology, 3rd edn. New York : Random House.

"Individuals seek and avoid situations selectively.... Persons may select habitats in the physical environment, and mates in the social environment.... One of the ubiquitous findings in the mate-selection literature is that, for nearly every variable that has been examined, from single acts to personality variables, to ethnic, racial, status and physical variables, there is a positive correlation between spouses.... [In the present study, of 57 dating couples] those who scored high on surgency {liveliness} wanted a surgent mate; those who scored high on conscientiousness desired a conscientious mate [etc.].... Personality characteristics appear to play a pivotal role in the social mechanism of [mate] selection [and, by implication, more generally, in life-situational selection]."

D.A.BUSS, 1987, J. Personality & Social Psychology 53.

"B.F.Skinner [has done] excellent battle with the merchants of cognitivism-criticizing cognitivists ("premature neurologists") for their numerous 'black boxes' of the mind that certainly provide no substitute for the laws of behaviour by which [according to Skinner] the environment controls us. Yet Skinner strangely has no place in his engagingly non-mentalistic scheme for those other laws, going in the opposite direction, that express the control that we ourselves exert over our 'environments'. Simply, Skinner ignores-he does not trouble to contest them- transactionist possibilities. 'Transactionist'? - Merely meaning that people themselves exist irreducibly (as philosophers commonly allow) and that they already exert selective and creative control over those very situations and contingencies that Skinner deems to be of such paramount importance."

C.R.BRAND, 1988, Behaviour Research & Therapy 26.

"....there is increasing recognition that the child's individual biological make-up and completed phenotype at any one stage [of development] are important influences on its transactions with the environment.... In nature, apparently, personality development is not a matter of the environment influencing personality, but of personality acting-when this is possible-to select and shape the environment."

C.R.BRAND, 1988, in D.Anderson, Full Circle. London : Social Affairs Unit.

"Recent developments have centered on the role of persons in selecting, evoking, cognitively restructuring and manipulating features of their environments [13 refs. given]....Aggressive children, for example, apparently expect others to be hostile, thereby eliciting hostility from others and creating an environment populated with more belligerent acts than the one created by children who are less aggressive. People selectively attend to and elicit behaviors from others that confirm their prior self-concepts. Adults select as mates those with similar personality dispositions, attitudes and interests, thus creating an enduring environment that they may inhabit for years or decades."

D.M.BUSS, 1991, Annual Review of Psychology 42.

"As adults we select environments; and, furthermore, environments also select us in the sense that we do not always achieve our first choice of school, career, or marriage partner. Once in situations, we alter them by selectively evoking certain behaviours from others. In addition, we may alter others' existing behaviours by 'shaping'.... .... Snyder & Ickes (1985, in Lindzey & Aronson, Handbook of Social Psychology, Vol. II) reviewed several studies apparently supporting [the idea that individuals will choose to spend time in situations that offer them the chance to express their own personalities]. For each personality variable examined (extraversion, sensation-seeking, authoritarianism, locus of control, self-monitoring) individuals reported actively choosing to spend time in situations which allowed the behavioural expression of these characteristics.... Holland's (1973) influential theory of occupational choice, in which both persons and jobs are characterized by the same typology, is based on the assumption that people will be most satisfied, productive, and stable in work environments congruent with their personalities."

Sarah E. HAMPSON, 1992, in A.Gale & M.W.Eysenck, Handbook of Individual Differences: Biological Perspectives. Chichester : Wiley DePublisher DePublisher.

"The things that happen to people are like the people they happen to."

Editorial in The Irish Times, c. 1980, providing a powerful critique of the troubles of the then Irish Taoiseach. (Quoted by John SIMPSON, The Spectator, 21 xi 1992.)

"Individual differences in desired amounts of particular reinforcers may predict person-environment interactions...."

S.REISS & Susan HAVERCAMP, 1996, Behaviour Research & Therapy 34.

(vi) Are some 'traits' more 'trait-like' than others?

"For molecular behaviours within the trait of conscientiousness [e.g. class attendance, bed neatness, appointment punctuality], the central tendency of the cross-situational correlation is between .30 and .50.... While these values are higher than those of Mischel & Peake (1982, Psychol. Review), comparable analyses of their friendliness data failed to replicate the results for conscientiousness, cautioning us not to over-generalize estimates of cross-situational consistency from any of the analyses currently available."

A.C.HOUTS et al., 1986, Journal of Personality 54.

"[Diener et al., 1984, J.Person.& Soc.Psychol.] discovered that negative affect was much more influenced by individual differences and much less influenced by situational factors than was the case for positive affect. In other words, positive affect could be predicted reasonably well from a knowledge of the situation an individual was in, but negative affect could not. Our [own] data....are broadly consistent with those of Diener et al."

Lesley HEPBURN & M.W.EYSENCK, 1989, Personality & Individual Differences 10.

"D.K.Simonton (1984, Genius, Creativity and Leadership) published a path analysis of the many influences determining a ruler's eminence, using the historical achievements of 342 European rulers. The combined influence of intelligence, morality and leadership amounted to less than 10% of the total; situational factors appeared to be vastly more important. Simonton concludes that 'greatness as a leader seems to be less a matter of being the right person and more a matter of being in the right place at the right time.'"

H.J.EYSENCK, 1995, Genius: the Natural History of Creativity. Cambridge University Press.

(vii) Are some people more 'personological' than others?

"....I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want."

St PAUL, Philippians XI 11,12.

"[Beethover] lived in squalor, a terror to housekeepers. Often as he wandered the streets, humming and mumbling to himself, children would take him for a tramp and heckle him..... Usually he looked sad: in his last years his face was so sickly yellow and lacerated with suffering that his friends could hardly bear to look at him. Time and again, though, when these things were observed by those who knew him, they would add that his nobility of mind and spirit shone through all the disorder of his life."

Jan SWAFFORD, 1992, The New Guide to Classical Music. New York : Random House (Vintage Books).

"Everything in my life came about because I am as I am."

C.G.JUNG, at about age 80.

"In his summary of findings concerning differential behaviour by internals [high in 'internal locus of control'] and externals, E.Phares (1976, Locus of Control in Personality) showed that internals exert greater efforts personally to control their environments than do externals. Spector (1982, Psychol.Bulletin) noted that attempts by internals to control their work setting might take the form of exerting influence in the following areas: in operating procedures, work assignments, and relationships with others.... [In the present study] externals are less likely to think about leaving a job....Instead, externals are more likely to wait until environmental factors force them to leave."

G.J.BLAU, 1987, Journal of Occupational Psychology 60.

"Many Japanese are Shintoists on happy occasions; on sad occasions, they prefer to be Buddhists."

H.J.SCHOEPS, 1967, An Intelligent Person's Guide to the Religions of Mankind. London : Gollancz.

"....we carried out a study to see if there was more situational variance in behaviour in Japan, more person variance in Britain, and found a large difference, i.e. British people are more consistent across different situations."

Michael ARGYLE, 1988, The Psychologist 1, ix.

"The thing to remember about Japanese society is that it is not an individual's attributes that count so much in his everyday behaviour as the social context in which he finds himself. Chameleons of the East, Japanese would deny that the Western leopard actually has any spots to change."

George WEBB, 1989, Encounter 72, v.

"According to the psychological anthropologist, L.K.Hsu, whereas Western cultures are 'individual-centred' and place great emphasis on emotions, in contrast, Chinese culture is 'situation-centred' and concentrates on groups...."

Alain de Botton, 1993, Essays in Love. London : Macmillan.

(viii) Is it all a matter of 'labelling', 'attribution' or 'construction'?

"The stability of an individual's personality is in large part a construction of ordinary consciousness..., a simplifying assumption, just as our ordinary, immediate assumption of the rectangularity of rooms is a simplifying assumption."


"When all is said and done, perhaps the only enduring characteristic of a person's identity structure is its potential for change. Yet, no matter how idiosyncratic such changes are, they are ultimately driven by desires common to everyone-to know what one is doing and to do what one can."

R.R.VALLACHER & D.M.WEGNER, 1987, Psychological Review 94.

"Traits are not just things that other people have [pace E.E.Jones & R.Nesbitt, 1971]. We have them too, and in greater number than [we believe] other people do. We agree with Jones & Nesbitt that people perceive themselves as highly flexible; but this view of the self is more consistent with the perception that one has many traits [e.g. being both 'serious' and 'carefree'] than the perception that one has few. We do not see traits as rigidly dictating our behaviour, although we may view others' traits as doing so. Rather, our traits are multiple, ready to be called on as the situation demands."

G.N.SANDE et al., 1988, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 54.

"Several studies have demonstrated that the recent use of trait categories can drastically alter the way that personality information is processed.... Higgins et al. (1977) demonstrated that a target's evaluatively ambiguous behaviors (e.g. rowing the Atlantic) were encoded in the same evaluative direction as the 'priming traits'. Those subjects primed with desirable terms described the target as "adventurous", whereas those primed with undesirable terms described the target as "reckless"....

The process of personality construction (or the negotiation of identity) takes place throughout the life-span, building layer upon layer of socially significant actions, which are repeatedly displayed and modified, producing a series of changing forms."

Sarah E. HAMPSON, 1992, in A.Gale & M.W.Eysenck, A Handbook of Individual Differences: Biological Perspectives. Chichester : Wiley DePublisher.

"If a man perceives a situation as real, it is real in its consequences."

W.I.THOMAS & D.S.THOMAS, 1932, The Child in America.

"The essence of man becomes conscious of itself only in extreme situations. For this reason I have tried not to veil the most extreme from myself."

K.JASPERS, quoted in P.A.Schilpp, 1957, The Philosophy of Karl Jaspers. New York : Tudor.

"Funerals are among the few ceremonial occasions left to us, and we assume our roles almost without thinking. I was the Only Son, who was bearing up splendidly, but who was also known not to be, and to have no expectation of ever being, the man his father was.... Well-all right. That's the pattern, and we break patterns at our peril. After all, they become patterns because they conform to realities."

'Boy Staunton Jr', narrator of Robertson Davies' (1970) The Manticore. Harmondsworth : Penguin, 1976.

(ix) The practical relevance of the dispute.

"The general remedy of those who are uneasy without knowing the cause, is change of place; they are willing to imagine that their pain is the consequence of some local inconvenience, and endeavour to fly from it, as children fly from their shadows; always hoping for some more satisfactory delight from every new scene, and always returning home with disappointments and complaints... The foundation of content must spring up in the mind: and he who has so little knowledge of human nature, as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own dispositions, will waste his life in fruitless efforts and multiply the griefs which he proposes to remove."

Doctor JOHNSON, 1750, The Rambler, No. 6, 7 iv.

"....and blest are those

Whose blood and judgment are so well commeddled

That they are not a pipe for Fortune's finger

To sound what stop she pleases."


Who are the free?

They who have scorn'd the tyrant and his rod,

And bow'd in worship unto none but God;

They who have made the conqueror's glory dim -

Unchain'd in soul, though manacled in limb -

Unwarp'd by prejudice-unawed by wrong:

Friends to the weak, and fearless of the strong.

They who would change not with the changing hour,

The self-same men in peril and in power;

True to the law of right, as warmly prone

To grant another's as maintain their own;

Foes of oppression whereso'er it be.

PRINCE. Quoted by H.Southgate,

Many Thoughts of Many Minds.

"In a curious ex cathedra statement, Eysenck (1982) alleges that the decision by the American Psychiatric Association to delete the term 'neurosis' is 'based on political pressures and scholastic infighting'. Actually, it is in keeping with the modern 'problem- oriented record approach' in medicine (Weed, 1968) and psychiatry (Hayes-Roth et al., 1972)."

A.A.LAZARUS, 1986, in S. & Celia Modgil, Hans Eysenck: Consensus and Controversy. Brighton : Falmer.

"The ideal (social) situation is still waiting to be invented."

Michael ARGYLE, 1981, New Society.

"Behaviour therapy came into being when psychoanalysis was the predominant force in clinical psychology and psychiatry.... Rejection of psychoanalysis tended to generalize to ideas and methods used in psychoanalysis irrespective of any necessary connection between the two. This resulted in a wholesale discreditation of major conceptual tools and areas of knowledge. For example, theory was de-emphasized. Personality theory and traits were the primary targets of this purge, undoubtedly due in part to the prominent role they played in psychoanalysis. Biological factors fared no better."

C.R.BARBRACK & C.M.FRANKS, 1986, in S. & Celia Modgil, Hans Eysenck: Consensus and Controversy. Brighton : Falmer.

"Two 'internal' styles [of interpreting events] have....been identified....: a behavioural style which is said to exist when people judge the way they acted in a particular situation as having caused a certain outcome ('I failed to brake in time and crashed into the fence'}; and a characterological style which is typified by judgments attributing the causation of events to the character, rather than to the actions of an individual ('I crashed the car yesterday; it's the kind of thing which always seems to happen to someone like me').... [We found] that managers who tended to make characterological attributions for negative events had poor mental health as measured by the General Health Questionnaire.... Higher expressed need for a job was also associated with poor mental health."

A.OSTELL & P.DIVERS, 1987, J. Occupational Psychology 60.

"Since 1978, the person-situation debate has been given new impetus by R.S.Lazarus who has criticized the predominant trait orientation in the study of stress and coping and has suggested replacing the emphasis on traits with a process orientation centering on the person's continuing relationship with the environment.... Lazarus, however, does not disavow the concept of underlying consistency at the level of goal hierarchies, general beliefs, and other personal agendas."

L.LAUX & Hannelore WEBER, 1987, European Journal of Personality 1.

"Peter Warr (1987, Unemployment and Mental Health) suggests that there are nine important environmental features [on which, as with vitamins, a certain level is necessary for (mental) health]:

opportunity for control; opportunity for skill use;

externally generated goals; variety;

environmental clarity; availability of money;

physical security; opportunity for personal contact;

and valued social position.

The important feature of the 'vitamin analogy' is that we only need a certain level of vitamins. If this level-which Warr refers to as a 'plateau'-is not reached, there is impairment; but, once reached, further intake yields no benefit and for certain vitamins can actually be harmful.... However....as Warr himself acknowledges, there is little data available which can support or refute the non-linear assumptions of the model."

Susan NEWELL, 1988, The Psychologist 1.

"If personality dispositions endure, and if they in effect serve to define and change the meaning of situations that are encountered in everyday life, is it possible to change personality? I am inclined to answer this question in the negative. However, this negative answer does not lead to a completely negative view of our potential for the amelioration of psychological distress attributable to undesirable personal dispositions.... An apt example of the model of personality change contemplated here can be found in the treatment of alcoholics provided by Alcoholics Anonymous. The treatment is based on the assumption that the personal tendency toward alcoholism is an invariant characteristic of individuals, and the treatment is not directed toward its removal. Rather, the treatment aims, by the provision of social supports, to provide an environment that will minimize the opportunity of an individual to imbibe alcohol. Paradoxically, a commitment to personality as a relatively invariant disposition directs one's attention to the potential for re- structuring our environments in ways that will change the opportunities provided to express various personal dispositions."

Nathan BRODY, 1988, Personality. San Diego : Academic.

"[10-year-old] Sayed is famous in Kabul: he is a genius living in a war zone. ....Kabul is a bombed-out, devastated city overrun by gunmen....Sayed's father, a clerk in the aviation ministry, earns around £7 a month....So they don't eat meat. Often they don't eat at all....Most government schools have been closed for more than three years.....[Yet] Sayed astonished his parents by learning the Russian alphabet at the age of two and a half. He started school at three....His class mates now in pre-medical school [at Kabul University] are in their 20's and early 30's, all men with beards....the lecturer is often interrupted by an ominous explosion outside."

Tim McGIRK, 1996, Independent on Sunday, 31 iii.


"Sociologese has certainly been partly responsible for the proliferation of such pretentious vogue abstractions as constructions with 'situation', which have become a laughing stock and are dying of shame."

Philip HOWARD, 1986, The State of the Language. Harmondsworth : Penguin.

"....the trait-situation debate is now a closed or finished empirical issue, and there is ample support for a theory of traits."

Nathan BRODY, 1987, Personality & Individual Differences 8.

"Depending on theoretical viewpoints, [the person-situation controversy] has either resulted in an elaboration of trait approaches or in the development of alternative approaches in the form of different variants of interactionism that were long overdue."

Lothar LAUX and Hannelore WEBER, 1989, European Journal of Personality 3.

"The trait approach to personality has not been without its critics, particularly the situationists, led by Mischel; but the trait theorists appear to have had the better of the dispute."

Kevin CONNOLLY, 1989,

Times Higher Educational Supplement, 27 x.

"....the secular version of the Christian emphasis on personality is still with us."

G.M.TAMAS, 1989, The Spectator, 24/31 xii.

"....truly original work still has to be done in a garret; no Washington committee would have supported a proposal from Freud for research on the superego, and Einstein did his truly basic work while supporting himself by daily routine work at the Patent Office."

R.B.CATTELL, 1994, How Good Is Your Country? Washington, DC : Institute for the Study of Man.

"Sociology in the past tended to over-emphasize the causal effect of social conditions. In policy terms, this led to what popular critics (read the tabloid newspapers) call social worker syndrome. No one is made to take responsibility for what they do-it is all the result of "circumstances" like unemployment. The problem is that much of this is true-unemployment can be shown to increase suicide and illness, for instance. But it is a question of balance-and sociology has tended to ignore the ways in which different people respond to similar conditions."

Michèle BARRETT (President of the British Sociological Association 1993- 1995), 1995, Times Higher Educational Supplement, 1175, 12 v.

"Experimental social psychologists have tried to demonstrate the power of situational variables over dispositional ones by using paradigms in which naive subjects are put into novel behavior settings, such as mock prisons (Zimbardo, 1972) or blind obedience to authority situations (Milgram, 1974). Such alien environments minimize the dynamic role of personality by reducing the opportunities for 'characteristic' ways of responding (as measured by personality scales). Personality traits are predictors of aggressive behavior when people are observed in settings more familiar to them, or when they report on how they usually behave in previously experienced settings, or when it is possible to predict how salient situational features might be perceived differently by those with different personality structures."

G.V.CAPRARA, C. BARBARANELLI & P.G.ZIMBARDO (1996). 'Understanding the complexity of human aggression: affective, cognitive and social dimensions of individual differences in propensity towards aggression.' European Journal of Personality 10, 133-155.

"Unwonted circumstances may make us all rather unlike ourselves: there are conditions under which the most majestic person is obliged to sneeze, and our emotions are liable to be acted on in the same incongruous manner."

From George Eliot's Middlemarch.

How did the term 'situationism' arrive in psychology anyway....?

"When one sees old photographs of the Lettrists and Situationists, strolling along the boulevards with their spiky hair, spotted scarves and dark glasses, it is hard to believe that these are pictures taken during the 1950's and not the Punk era.... The Situationist International, founded in Paris in 1957, was an astonishingly prescient revolutionary political movement.... In the postwar boom, [these Situationists argued,] commodity relations spread to all aspects of life so that people became alienated not only from labour but from their own selves, their own desires and pleasures. These, assisted by an increasingly dominant media, were re-packaged and sold back to them as part of the "leisure" industry.... Situationism obviously rested on a utopian vision of "authenticity" beyond the spectacle.... [But, after May, 1968,] post-structuralist and postmodern theory evolved, and rendered meaningless the Situationist distinction between the "real" and the spectacle."

Elizabeth YOUNG, 1992, New Statesman & Society, 8 v.


(Compiled by Chris Brand, Department of Psychology, University of Edinburgh.)

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