Psych Building

The International Situations Project


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 have recently been awarded an NSF grant (to see the proposal click here) to expand our project to an even wider sample of countries, and to include measures of personality, situational experience, and behavior as we examine the person-situation interaction around the world. For a list of collaborators on the new project, click here.


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).

Current Research

The International Situations Project has collected 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. More countries are represented in our new project that is just beginning.  All sites translate and back-translate measures into their local languages, which are reexamined for clarity and consistency.  Our online platform ( 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 interaction.


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 eliminated.

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.


Benet-Martinez, V. & John, O.P. (1998). Los cinco grandes across cultures and ethnic groups: multitrait multimethod analyses of the big five in Spanish and English. The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 3, 729-750.


Church, A.T. Katigbak, M. S., Reyes, J.A.S., Salanga, M.G.C., Miramontes, L.A., & Adams, N.B. (2008). Prediction and cross-situational consistency of daily behavior across cultures: Testing trait and cultural psychology perspectives. Journal of Research in Personality, 42, 1199-1215.


Church, A. T. (2009). Prospects for an integrated trait and cultural psychology. European Journal of Personality, 23, 153-182.


English, T., & Chen, S. (2007). Culture and self-concept stability: Consistency across and within context among Asian Americans and European Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 478–490.


Funder, D. C. & Colvin, C. R. (1991). Explorations in behavioral consistency: Properties of persons, situations, and behaviors. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60, 773-794.


Funder, D. C., Furr, R. M., & Colvin, C. R. (2000). The Riverside Behavioral Q-sort: A tool for the description of social behavior. Journal of Personality, 68, 451-489.


Heine, S.J., Lehman, D.R., Kaiping, P., & Greenholtz, J. (2002). What’s wrong with cross-cultural comparisons of subjective likert scales? The reference-group effect. Journal of Persoanlity and Social Psychology, 82, 903-918.


Markus, H.R., & Kitayama, S. (1998). The cultural psychology of personality. Journal of Cross-cultural Psychology, 29, 63-87.


McCrae & Terracciano. (2005). Personality profiles of cultures: Aggregate personality traits. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89, 407-425.


Oishi, S. (2004). Personality in culture: A neo-Allportian view. Journal of Research in Personality, 38, 68-74.


Oishi, S., Diener, E., Scollon, C. N., & Biswas-Diener, R. (2004). Cross-situational consistency of affective experiences across cultures. Journal of Personality   and Social Psychology, 86, 460–472.


Sherman, R.A., Nave, C.S., & Funder, D.C. (2010). Situational similarity and personality predict behavioral consistency. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99, 330-343.


Sherman, R.A., Nave, C.S., & Funder, D.C. (2012). Properties of persons and situations related to overall and distinctive personality-behavior congruence. Journal of Research in Personality, 46, 87-101.


Suh, E. M. (2002). Culture, identity consistency, and subjective well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 595-60.

The material described in these web pages is based, part, upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grants No. BCS-06422243, BCS-1052638, and BCS-1528131. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the individual researchers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.



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