Knowledgeable informants are frequently employed as data-gathering instruments in all domains of research in psychology. Informant assessments correspond with one of the basic data types known in psychology, which has been called L-data (i.e., life data recorded by observers) by Cattell (1957), 0-data (i.e., data generated by observers) by Block (1977), or l-data (i.e., data derived from informants) by Funder (2004). Informants are people who usually share some brief history with a studied target. In addition to close relationship partners (e.g., spouses, peers, parents, siblings), other people with a lesser degree of acquaintance can also serve as informants (e.g., experts, teachers, workmates, etc.). Even so-called zero-acquaintances, who only observe episodes of a target's behavior within short interactions or from brief exposure, can also be informative. A variety of formats are used in informant assessment, including frequency estimates of specific behavior, ratings on global personality scales, Q-sort ratings of trait or behavioral profiles, and rank orders of individuals in groups. From a multitrait-multimethod perspective, informant assessment is a highly desirable tool to establish convergent validity. A strong convergent validation of a trait or behavioral construct is verified by strong heteromethod correlations of informant-rated measures with self-ratings, behavioral measures, or other operational criteria (Campbell & Fiske, 1959; Hoyt, 2000; Moskowitz, 1986; Ozer & Reise, 1994).
The problem of informant assessment equates to the problem of accuracy in interpersonal judgment, which Allport (1937) considered as a central topic of personality psychology. The veridicality of informant assessment usually depends on the knowledge of informants, the observability of assessed traits, the aggregation level of informant ratings, and judgmental biases (Epstein, 1983; Rushton, Brainerd, & Pressley, 1983). Despite these problems, informant assessment is successfully used in many fields of psychological research. In personality and social psychology, informant ratings are frequently used to validate self-ratings of personality traits (e.g., Costa & McCrae, 1988; McCrae, 1994; Moskowitz & Schwarz, 1982; Roberts, Harms, Smith, Wood, & Webb, this volume, chap. 22; Smith & Harris, this volume, chap. 26). Sometimes self-ratings are contrasted with informant ratings (i.e., to study the extent and the effects of self-enhancement—e.g., Asendorpf & Ostendorf, 1998; Colvin, Block, & Funder, 1995). In developmental psychology, knowledgeable informants (e.g., parents, teachers, or peers) can be asked about the personality and behavior of children (e.g., Achenbach, McConaughy, & Howell, 1987; Coie, Cillessen, Dodge, Hubbard, Schwartz, Lemerise, & Bateman, 1999; Kremen & Block, 1998; Morris, Robinson, & Eisenberg, this volume, chap. 25). In clinical psychology, informants can provide important knowledge on adults' and children's psy-chopathology like symptomatic or personality disorders (e.g., Bagby, Rector, Bindseil, Dickens, Levitan, & Kennedy, 1998; Ball, Rounsaville, Tennen, & Kranzler, 2001; Burns & Haynes, this volume, chap. 27; Stanger & Lewis, 1993; Zucker, Morris, Ingram, Morris, & Bakeman, 2002).
This chapter gives an overview of the conceptual and methodological basics of informant assessment. Starting with a brief outline of Brunswik's lens model approach, the problem of accurate informant assessment is discussed. After a historical sketch of the role of informant assessment in accuracy research, three basic theoretical models of person perception are presented and discussed regarding their usefulness for informant assessment. The chapter then focuses on the validity of informant assessment and how it can be improved by considering important moderator variables. Finally, some guidelines for practice with respect to research design and statistical issues are presented.
BRUNSWIK'S LENS MODEL OF PERCEPTION
The veridicality of informant assessment is best conceptualized in terms of Brunswik's (1956) lens model, which serves as a common base for contemporary approaches to person perception (see Schmitt, this volume, chap. 2, Figure 2.2). The left side of the model is the target, or sender, who encodes cues, some of which are veridical indicators of underlying traits or behavioral dispositions (i.e., Ml). On the right side is the informant, or perceiver, who decodes the behavioral cues that serve as a kind of lens through which a perceiver infers the underlying trait of a given target (i.e., M2). Overt cues, for instance, "seeks direct eye contact" and "initiates conversation" may serve as indirect cues leading the informant to infer a target's high level of extraversión. In Brunswik's model, cue utilization refers to the link between the observable cues and an informant's judgment. The link between the observable cue and the target's actual standing on the trait is referred to as cue validity. If both these links are veridical, then the informant's judgment should converge with the underlying trait and will result in functional achievement, which is equivalent to accurate informant assessment and is the third link.
How can the three links in Brunswik's lens model be operationalized? Cue utilization refers to the informant's decoding of behavioral cues and results when the informant's trait ratings of the tar get correlate with observable behavioral cues. Cue validity, in contrast, refers to a target's encoding of behavioral cues and results when the target's underlying trait correlates with the observed behavioral cues. Functional achievement represents the accuracy of the informant, which is a probabilistic association or in other words the correlation of the informant's trait rating with a given criterion. In general, decoding (i.e., cue utilization) is found to be stronger than encoding (i.e., cue validity), suggesting that the empirical association between informant ratings and observable cues is stronger than the association between the underlying traits and observable cues, especially when reliable assessments are obtained by using multiple informants (e.g., Borkenau & Liebler, 1992, 1993; Funder & Sneed, 1993; Gifford, 1991, 1994; Gosling, Ko, Mannarelli, & Morris, 2002; Scherer, 1978).
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