Current social and personality psychology perspectives agree that behavior is determined by the interaction between characteristics of persons and situations. However, theoretical and empirical progress towards understanding what constitutes a “situation” and how behavior is systematically related to situation variables is limited (Funder, 2001; Funder, 2006; Hogan, 2005; Pervin, 1976; Roberts, 2007). To address this issue, the current research developed a contextualized personality assessment procedure to measure both objective and subjective properties of social situations, as well as social behavior manifested in those situations.
Over the course of three lab sessions, participants completed a battery of self-report measures of personality, and engaged in four videotaped dyadic social interactions with an opposite sex partner. These interactions differed on two objective properties: (a) on one occasion the participant's partner was an acquaintance and on another occasion the participant's partner was a stranger who was also a participant in the study, and (b) with each partner, participants engaged in an unstructured interaction in which they were instructed to talk freely with each other which was followed by a structured debate. After each interaction, participants rated their experience on a series of situation characteristics, affects, motives, and behaviors. Each participant's videotaped behavior in each of the four lab interactions was rated by an independent team of three trained coders on 64 behavioral dimensions.
The validity of the contextualized personality assessment procedure was evaluated in two studies designed to replicate and extend previous research on the relationship between situation properties and social behavior. Study one examined the relationship between situation similarity and behavioral consistency. Consistent with previous research by Furr and Funder (2004), the results of study one found that mean behavioral consistency was greater across situations that shared at least one objective property (i.e., same person or same task), compared to situations that did not share one of these properties. Ratings of subjective situation similarity were positively correlated with behavioral consistency for male participants but not for females, revealing a previously unreported gender difference. The relationship for females between subjective situation similarity and behavioral consistency was strongest for situations that differed by objective task type (talking vs. debating) and weakest for situations that differed by partner type (friend vs. stranger). In addition, the overall accuracy of females' self-reports were found to moderate the similarity/consistency relationship, with higher levels of accuracy associated with a stronger correlation between subjective situation similarity ratings and behavioral consistency. In contrast, the relationship for males between subjective situation similarity and behavioral consistency was direct and not moderated by accuracy or task type. Together, these results suggest that women's subjective situation ratings are more dependent than men's situation ratings on objective situation properties.
Study two examined the content of participants' subjective situation ratings and the correlates between subjective situation ratings and independently rated social behavior. Research by Fleeson (2007) concluded that participants' subjective ratings of specific situations were reliable predictors of social behavior in those situations; however, his conclusions were derived from participants' self-ratings of situations and self-ratings of behavior. In the current research, a factor analysis of participants' subjective situation ratings yielded five subjective situation factors which were labeled positive affect, negative affect, situation strength, agency and communion. Participants' subjective ratings on these five factors predicted their independently coded social behavior in each of the four lab situations, thus extending Fleeson's (2007) findings that were based solely on self-report.
The present research provided evidence for the predictive validity of the contextualized personality assessment. Study one provided evidence for a relationship between objective and subjective situation similarity and behavioral consistency. Study two provided evidence for the validity of the subjective situation perceptions by demonstrating a relationship between situation specific perceptions and social behavior. The findings indicate the importance of objective and subjective properties of social situations for understanding behavioral consistency and situation specific behavior.