The Methodological and Conceptual Fulcrum Identity and Reputation

According to our conceptualization of personality, the components of personality are manifest in two psychological media: the identity and the reputation. Identity reflects the sum total of opinions that are cognitively available to a person across the four units of analysis described earlier. We use the term identity for several reasons. The most important reason is the fact that identity pertains to both the content of self-perceptions and the meta-cognitive perception of those same self-perceptions. Specifically, people can simultaneously see themselves as "outgoing" and a "carpenter" and feel more or less confident about those self-perceptions. Or, people can see themselves as agreeable (self-percept) and at the same time see their agreeableness as changeable or not (meta-cognitive percept). These latter meta-cognitive aspects of identity, reflected in constructs such as entity versus incremental orientation (Dweck & Leggett, 1988), identity achievement, identity clarity, and importance, play a significant role in personality assessment and development (Roberts & Caspi, 2003).

Reputation is others' perspectives about a person's traits, motives, abilities, and narratives (Craik, 1993). There is a tendency to consider observer ratings, or in this case, reputational ratings, as higher quality than self-reports (Hofstee, 1994). This position holds some merit, as a good assessment of a person's reputation entails asking the opinion of more than one person. Thus, reputational ratings, by their very nature, are often intrinsically more reliable than self-reports because self-reports only entail the opinion of one person. Reputations also guide significant decisions, such as whether to hire a person, admit them to graduate school, marry them, or simply be their friend.

From our perspective, the self-reports used to assess identity and the observer ratings used to assess reputation both afford unique, yet flawed, information about a person. Certain psychological phenomena, such as feelings of anxiety, may best be accessed through self-reports of identity. On the other hand, determining a person's true levels of agreeableness might be better assessed through the opinion of their friends and relatives who may be less defensive about another person's behavior than their own. Each perspective is potentially defective, in that neither the persons reporting on themselves nor the persons reporting on a friend or relative are perfectly accurate. Accepting the fact that there are two flawed and distinct ways to understand a person confronts and solves several dilemmas that have plagued personality psychology for decades. For example, it automatically incorporates the fact that people can and do attempt to manage their identity to shape their reputation. People do not always tell the whole truth about themselves to employers, friends, family, and strangers. Self-presentation is a fact in human nature and must be successfully incorporated into any theory of personality and cannot be incorporated without a distinction between identity and reputation (Hogan & Roberts, 2000).

Despite the spirit of the MTMM approach spelled out by Campbell and Fiske (1959), the convergence of self-reports and observer ratings of personality and other phenomena has never been as high as one would hope. In most cases, the convergence averages between .3 and .6 (Funder, 1987). One of the clear conceptual and methodological advances in the field of personality psychology is the Realistic Accuracy Model (RAM; Funder, 1995), which provides a clear theoretical model identifying why identity and reputation are not more highly correlated. In this model, for a strong tie to exist between self-reports and observer ratings four conditions must hold. First, the person being perceived must do something relevant to the psychological dimension of interest. If one wants to judge whether a person is conscientious or not, then it is imperative that they act in a conscientious fashion. Second, the behavior, thought, or feeling must be displayed in a way that it is made available to the observer. Like the proverbial tree falling in an empty forest, private actions do little to influence one's reputation, unless of course they are made public. Third, the observer must detect the behavior. If the person watching does not perceive the behavior, then it might as well not have occurred. Finally, the observed act must be used in an appropriate way. For example, to some people, being clean may be a sign of conscientiousness, whereas to others it may be an indication of neuroticism (e.g., obsessive-ness). The extent to which these four conditions hold determines the level of correspondence between self and observers across psychological domains.

The RAM model has implications beyond the relationship between observer/reputation and self-reports/identity. It also applies to the accuracy of self-reports themselves, in the absence of any observer data. For example, we often ask young people to rate themselves on a variety of personality dimensions without ever asking ourselves whether these individuals make good judges of their own personality. For example, a young person may be more than willing to say that they are a good leader, based not on experience but on the hope that someday they will become one (relevance). Or, quite possibly, a person may do something relevant to a trait but not notice it (detection). That is to say, people may not be aware of the importance or relevance of the diagnostic nature of their own behavior. Finally, people may use self-relevant information in idiosyncratic ways that might not conform to how scientists define or understand a nomothetically derived construct. With the exception of the availability stage of the RAM model, it seems that the remaining mechanisms for accuracy can be applied to a number of issues across psychology and personality psychology in particular.

Measures of identity and reputation also do not correlate as high as expected because they are assessed through distinct methods that afford different types of information (see Meyer et al., 2001). Clearly, identity-related assessments permit greater access to internal states and experiences that do not happen or are not visible in the company of others. Reputations, on the other hand, may be less tarnished with self-enhancement tendencies and provide a more objective profile of the information that is publicly available to people or experts (Hofstee, 1994). Reputational information may not be ideal because its validity is undermined by the fact that observers do not have complete access to a person's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (Spain, Eaton, & Funder, 2000), although conversely, individuals may be unaware of some of their own behavioral tendencies that impact their reputations. Using both identity and reputational information and understanding their relationship is paramount for the science of personality. We will find that the distinction between identity and reputation runs through each of the domains of personality psychology and often acts as a fulcrum for understanding multimethod studies in personality psychology.

The methods found within the categories of identity and reputation can be further divided into the set of methods that have historically dominated the field of personality psychology. Broadly speaking, methods of assessment in personality psychology can be organized around the acronym "LOTS" (Block, 1993). L stands for life data, or the narrative content of a person's life. O stands for observer data, which can come from peers as well as trained professionals. T stands for test data and typically reflects objective performance measures. And finally, S stands for self-reports, or the subjective inferences we have about ourselves. Typically, S and L data are acquired through self-report techniques of ratings or interviews. T and O data are acquired through observer reports because the tests typically have to be scored by computer or person, and observer ratings clearly must be acquired through peers, family members, or interviewers. These four approaches to assessment subsume the majority of the methodological efforts in personality psychology.

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