Summary of the International Situations Project: March, 2015
Esther Guillaume and David Funder
Personality psychology has a long
history of conceptualizing and measuring individual
differences in personality traits, and using those
measurements to predict and understand behavior. However,
behavior also depends on the situations that people
encounter, and until recently very little has been done to
conceptualize or measure situations. The purpose of our
research is to develop and use a new method for measuring
the psychologically relevant attributes of situations, the
Riverside Situational Q-sort (RSQ). This research has
yielded a number of findings made possible only by
the existence of this instrument. These findings include:
people are more behaviorally consistent across situations
that are similar; people encounter situations that are more
similar to each other than they are to situations
encountered by other people; people are consistent in their
behavior over and above this situational similarity; people
who manifest more behavioral consistency across situations
tend to be psychologically better adjusted (Sherman, Nave &
Funder, 2010, 2012). Current laboratory studies are gathering data
concerning how people “construe” situations or, in other
words, the ways in which different people may perceive the
same situation differently.
The International Situations Project
takes this enterprise world-wide. Individuals
in different cultures have gone online to use the RSQ to
describe a situation they experienced the previous day,
along with their behavior in it. Because cross-cultural
research in personality is relatively rare, and because
research on the assessment of situations is even more
uncommon, the findings from this project are literally
unprecedented. They will illuminate the degree to
which people in different cultures experience the same or
different situations on a daily basis, how they behave on a
daily basis, and the ways in which situations are connected
to behavior in different cultures. The research is
frankly exploratory. Literally nothing is currently
known about these issues, so everything we find is
“news.” The very first paper from this project, which
includes a report of some preliminary data from our
collaboration with Japanese colleagues, was published in the
Japanese Journal of Personality [link].
A more recent paper, recently accepted for publication in
the Journal of Personality [link],
reports comparisons of situational experience across 20 different countries . More work is in progress, and we are
seeking resources to expand our project to an even wider sample of
countries, and to include measures of personality,
situational experience, and behavior to examine the
person-situation interaction around the world.
A great deal of research has
concentrated on the psychological lives of people in the
western world, particularity white college students in U.S.
universities. Without data from persons beyond this scope,
generalizing theories and research findings to other
populations is risky. As countries become more
interconnected, research in personality continues to branch
out to the far corners of the world. Cross-cultural research
in personality has revealed fascinating and sometimes
surprising similarities and differences among cultures
(Benet-Martinez & John, 1998). Impressively, some
Western theories of personality, such as the structure of
the Big Five, reliably emerge from many cultures and
languages (McCrae & Costa, 1996). McCrae and Terracciano
(2005) translated the NEO-PI-R in a study of 51 cultures and
found that, for example, Europeans were on average more
extraverted than Asians or Africans.
Behavioral consistency has also been
examined cross-culturally, with conflicting findings. Church
et al. (2008) found that although Americans exhibited more
behavioral variability across intellectual tasks, Filipinos
had more behavioral variability across relationship
contexts. English and Chen’s (2008) reported that Asian
Americans exhibited less consistency in trait ratings than
did European Americans across relationship situations, but
not across situational contexts that were based on location.
Some investigations have found that behavioral consistency
is not associated with psychological adjustment in Japan
(e.g., Church 2009; Markus & Kitayama, 1998), while Suh
(2002) found that subjective well-being was related to
internal consistency among American college students, but
not among Korean college students. However, behavioral
consistency was related to psychological adjustment among
Asian-American college students (Sherman, Nave & Funder,
2010). Moreover, substantial cross-situational consistency
in affect was found not only among Americans, but also among
Japanese and Indians (Oishi, Diener, Scollon, & Biswas-Diener,
2004; Oishi, 2004).
The International Situations Project
has collected, or is currently collecting data in Australia,
Canada, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany,
Israel, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Poland, Russia,
Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, and
Switzerland. All sites translate and back-translate
measures into their local languages, which are reexamined for clarity and consistency.
Our online platform (www.internationalsituationsproject.com)
allows participants to join the study anywhere, using a
login ID distributed from the local collaborators via email.
Participants are asked extensive
questions about their background, such as, “Where were you
born?” “Where were your parents born?” and, “What is your
native language?” Then participants are asked where they
were, whom they were with, and what they were doing the
previous evening at 7pm. Finally, using the RSQ,
participants describe the situation and then use another
instrument, the Riverside Behavioral Q-sort (RBQ, Funder,
Furr & Colvin, 2000) to describe their behaviors in it.
A more recent round of data-gathering is including the
California Q-sort (CAQ) measure of personality, as well, to
allow a complete analysis of the person-situation
Forced-choice instruments are
particularly useful for the detection of differences and
similarities across cultures because they compare items, not
persons, to one another, reducing the reference group effect
(Heine et al., 2002). The use of Q-sorts may thus be
beneficial, first, because people from different cultures
may adopt different standards when evaluating themselves on
subjective Likert scales. Forced-choice instruments escape
mid-point response biases commonly found in Asian cultures
(Heine et al., 2002). Second, people commonly view
themselves in comparison to others in their culture, not in
comparison to those outside their culture, possibly
shrinking differences. For example, a member of a particular
culture may indeed be more talkative than a member of
another culture, but not more talkative than most
individuals within her own culture. Such an individual would
probably not rate herself as highly talkative, and data in
the aggregate would thus obscure real cross-cultural
differences in talkativeness. Because the RSQ and RBQ are
forced-choice instruments, allowing only a certain number of
items to go into each rating category, the reference-group
effect and mid-point biases are likely to be lessened if not
RSQ (Version 3.15). The RSQ
(Version 3.15; Wagerman & Funder, 2009) comprises 89 diverse
characteristics of situations (e.g., “Talking is expected or
demanded”; “Members of the opposite sex are present”). By
placing each item into one of the nine categories, which
ranges from 1 (extremely uncharacteristic) to 9
(extremely characteristic), a forced-choice,
quasinormal distribution of the situation emerges. The
number of items placed in each category is 3, 6, 10, 14, 15,
14, 10, 6, and 3 for categories 1–9, respectively. Thus, as
is typical of the Q-sort method, participants must decide
which few items are the most and least characteristic of the
situation, whereas the majority of less relevant, or even
irrelevant, items are left to the middle categories.
RBQ (Version 3.11). The RBQ (Version 3.11; Funder et
al., 2000), is a 68-item assessment tool designed to
describe the range of a person’s behavior. Items include
“Smiles frequently”; “Is reserved and unexpressive.” By
placing each of the 68 items into one of nine categories,
which ranged from 1 (extremely uncharacteristic) to 9
(extremely characteristic), a forced-choice,
quasinormal distribution emerges.
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