Using Multiple Methods In Personality Psychology

Brent W. Roberts, Peter Harms, Jennifer L. Smith, Dustin Wood, and Michelle Webb

In many ways, Campbell and Fiske's (1959) article on multitrait-multimethod (MTMM) approaches to construct validity has stood like a Platonic ideal for personality psychologists since its publication. In the ideal study, and scientific world, our constructs should converge in a robust and coherent fashion across diverse methods. Moreover, we should all aspire to use multiple methods in both validating our measures and in investigating our ideas. Interestingly, that Platonic ideal is not realized as often as expected. If one looks closely at the empirical literature in personality psychology, the expectation that abstract constructs should converge across methods is seldom met at the level implied in the original article. This is not to argue that the Platonic ideal is not appropriate. Rather, one of the major points we would like to make in this chapter is that the ideal of the MTMM approach is often taken too literally and is sometimes misused or misinterpreted. Why speak such apostasies? In large part, because we are motivated to reiterate points made, ironically, by Fiske himself (Fiske, 1971).

What are these points? The first is that different methods, or modes as Fiske (1971) described them, are seldom innocuous. Thus, the literal assumption drawn from Campbell and Fiske (1959) that measures of similar constructs drawn from different methods should converge quite robustly is not met as often as we would like. This can lead to erroneous and nihilistic conclusions, such as the construct of interest, like depression, does not exist (e.g., Lewis, 1999). The second point is the assumption that monomethod studies are problem atic, inadequate, and should be avoided at all costs. Or, conversely, we should all be doing multimethod studies. This directive fails to consider the empirical fact just mentioned, which is that measures of the same construct seldom correlate highly enough across methods to warrant averaging across methods (Fiske, 1971). What are needed, rather than mandates to perform multimethod studies, are theoretical models that successfully incorporate and explain both the overlap and lack thereof of identical constructs across methods. In our following review, we will attempt to highlight the few theories and empirical examples that have done so.

Our third point is that the focus on multiple methods has inadvertently led to a misguided boondoggle to search for the methodological holy grail— the one method that deserves our ultimate attention. Campbell and Fiske (1959) should not be saddled with full responsibility for this phenomenon beyond the fact that they made it clear that we should be pursuing multiple methods. Leave it to human nature that psychologists would take that idea and try to one up the multimethod approach by finding the ultimate method. Thus, we have had hyperbolic statements made for and against particular methods made since the 1960s. People have argued that self-reports are fundamentally flawed and indistinguishable from response styles (Hogan & Nicholson, 1988; Rorer, 1965), that observer ratings are the seat of personality psychology (Hofstee, 1994), that projective tests do not work (Dawes, 1994), and that we should prioritize online measures over all other techniques (Kahneman, 1999).

As will be seen in the following reviews, none of these positions is defensible.

As the methods used are often tied inextricably to the ideas in a field, we will first provide a working definition of the field of personality psychology that will serve as an organizing heuristic for the subsequent review. As will be seen, this is a true case of form following function, as the content categories within the field of personality are each dominated by specific methods. Then, we review recent multimethod studies within and across the content domains of personality psychology. We will end with some thoughts about particulars of multi-method approaches in personality psychology.

WHAT IS PERSONALITY PSYCHOLOGY?

Personality psychology is the study of the individual differences in traits, motives, abilities, and life stories that make each individual unique (Roberts & Wood, in press). Figure 22.1 depicts the primary units of focus in our definition of personality, which reflects what we describe as the neosocioanalytic perspective on personality. For the purposes of this chapter, we will focus on the left-hand portion of the model and forgo a discussion of social roles and culture, so as to focus on the traditional content and methods of personality psychology. As can be seen in Figure 22.1 there are four "units of analysis" or domains that make up the core of personality: traits, motives, abilities, and narratives. These four domains are intended to subsume most, if not all, of the broad categories of individual differences in personality psychology.

The first domain, traits, subsumes the enduring patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that distinguish people from one another. Or, more euphemistically speaking, traits refer to what people typically think, feel, or do. In this regard, we view traits from a neo-Allportian perspective (Funder, 1991). From this perspective, traits are real, not fictions of people's semantic memory. They are causal, not just summaries of behavior. Moreover, they are learned. Even with identical genetically determined temperaments, two individuals may manifest different traits because of their unique life experiences.

Much attention has been dedicated to finding a working taxonomy of traits, and many accept the Big Five as a minimal number of domains (Goldberg, 1993). We prefer the Big Seven (Benet-Mar-tinez & Waller, 1997). The Big Seven adds global positive and negative evaluation to the Big Five and is a better representation of the entire trait domain. We prefer this model because, as will be seen later, one distinct characteristic of our definition of personality is the inclusion of reputation as a key element that has been underemphasized in the field. And although people may not describe themselves often with terms such as "evil" or "stunning," they do describe others in these terms.

Motivation, broadly construed, is the second domain of personality and subsumes all the things that people feel are desirable. We define the domain of motives as what people desire, need, and strive for—or perhaps more simply, what people want to do. This category includes values, interests, preferences, and goals (e.g., Holland, 1997), in addition to the classic notion of motives and needs (e.g., Murray, 1938). Currently, this domain is less coherent than the trait domain because there is no working taxonomy to organize the units of analysis. Nonetheless, there are striking commonalities across diverse areas, such as motives, goals, values, and interests. For example, in each of these domains of motivation, one can find superordinate themes of agency (desire for status and power) and communion (desire for acceptance and belonging). So, for example, the primary motivational units have been achievement, power (agency) and affiliation (communion; Smith, 1992). The higher-order factors that subsume most value dimensions also reflect power and affiliation (Schwarz & Bless, 1992).

The third domain reflects abilities and the hierarchical models identified in achievement literatures—that is what people can do (Lubinski, 2000). Specifically, intelligence is an individual's "entire repertoire of acquired skills, knowledge, learning sets, and generalization tendencies considered intellectual in nature that [is] available at any one period of time" (Humphreys, 1984, p. 243). Two models of abilities prevail. The first decomposes generalized intelligence (g), into constituent ele

FIGURE 22.1. A neo-socioanalytic topographical model of personality psychology.

Distal causes

Units of Analysis

Fulcrum of assessment

Distal causes

Distal causes

Units of Analysis

Fulcrum of assessment

Distal causes

FIGURE 22.1. A neo-socioanalytic topographical model of personality psychology.

ments of verbal, quantitative, and spatial abilities. The second decomposes g into two domains of fluid and crystallized intelligence (Horn & Cattell, 1966). The most radical feature of our system is that individual differences in ability should be a primary focus of personality researchers. How people differ on abilities is clearly important from both pragmatic and theoretical perspectives, and any description of an individual life would be inadequate if it were not included.

The final domain focuses on the content of personal stories and narratives that people use to understand themselves and their environments (McAdams, 1993). A critical point to consider in any model of personality is that although individuals can be classified in terms of traits, abilities, and goals, they often (if not generally) communicate information about themselves quite differently than a simple nomothetic classification on these characteristics, and one common strategy is the use of illustrative stories (McAdams, 1993) or scripts (de St. Aubin, 1999). People find it very easy to tell stories about themselves, others, and their environments. These narratives in turn help people create meaning and purpose in their lives and, predictability, in the events they observe and experience and provide explanations of how people have come to be in their present circumstances.

The identification of these four domains is cursory and deserves greater attention. Nonetheless, we feel that this is a sufficient start to organizing the units of analysis found within personality psychology and, more clearly than other systems, identifies what we study and, in part, the methods we use to study individuals.

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