For quite a long time, psychologists have realized that self-reports of personality represent only one approach; lurking beneath the surface of self-report are implicit tendencies related to selective attention, accessibility, categorization, and information retrieval. To the extent that one can measure these patterns, one unlocks important clues to what makes us different in our daily transactions with the environment.
Self-reported traits, we believe, are not exhaustive of personality. Although people are able to encode and represent certain facts about themselves, there are also major blind spots. One source of blind spots relates to inaccessibility. People do not, by and large, know how they process informa tion. For example, imagine asking people the following questions: "Just how activated was that thought?"; "To what extent did that thought trigger another related thought?"; "Do you engage in an attention allocation pattern that favors threatening information when multiple objects are present?"; or "To what extent did that thought activate your left hemisphere?" As we hope these questions suggest, there are many workings of the mind that are inaccessible to introspective awareness (MacLeod, 1993). Such inaccessibility is not necessarily motivated (Kihlstrom, 1987). Indeed, the fundamental fact of information processing may be that it is invisible to introspective analysis (Dixon, 1981).
A second major source of blind spots is that self-reported traits are significantly influenced by social desirability motives (Paulhus & John, 1998). People have overwhelmingly favorable views of themselves, views that are at odds with the actual circumstances of their lives. A way to reconcile this discrepancy (i.e., perception versus reality) is to propose that some, if not most, people engage in a motivated pattern of distortion such that they see themselves more positively that the circumstances warrant (Paulhus & John, 1998; Shedler et al., 1993). Such a view of self-report certainly leaves room for implicit measures of personality. Implicit measures cannot be "faked" in any obvious way, rendering them an appropriate check on conscious patterns of self-endorsement.
Finally, we would be remiss if we didn't highlight one final point. We have made the case that self-reported traits and implicit processes often do not correlate, precisely because they tap different aspects of the person. An important implication of this dissociation is that a study examining only self-reported traits and patterns of information process ing is likely to be a failure (i.e., there may be no correlation). Does this mean that information processing mechanisms are irrelevant to daily experience and behavior? No, not at all. To determine the role that information processing plays in behavior and experience, we are generally calling for a third variable approach. In particular, experience-sampling protocols can be used to determine the regularities, in emotion and behavior, of people's lives. In many cases, we have found that implicit measures predict daily experiences just as strongly as self-reported traits do, despite being uncorrelated with traits (e.g., Robinson et al., 2004). In other cases, we have found that self-reported traits and implicit measures interact in predicting daily experience and behavior (e.g., Robinson, Solberg, et al., 2003). The point is that one must measure daily experience and behavior to understand how implicit tendencies contribute to personality functioning.
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