Identifying contrasting themes that orchestrate personality expression across situations

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Abstract

Previous research has established the principle that situations can affect the expression of personality, though it is not well-understood what specific patterns characterize this change across situations. We explore the possibility of contrasting situation themes that influence personality expression, implying that there is a change in personality expression initiated by a transition between two distinct types of situations. 474 undergraduate students completed a questionnaire in which 15 personality tendencies were juxtaposed with each of 41 differing situations. Our findings replicated previous research indicating that Honesty/Propriety yields the least variance between situations while Emotional Stability and Extraversion yield the most variance. Principal components analysis was used to examine cross-situational variability with four models already present in psychological literature, each with contrasting poles. We found that our models of threat vs. reward, positive affect vs. negative affect, and agency vs. no agency were clear sources of cross-situational variability. Taken together, these results indicate ways of improving our understanding of patterns of change in personality expression across a variety of commonly occurring situations.