Perosnality vs situation: Mischel’s cognitive person variables

I have covered a lot of personality theories , especially I am enamored by the developmental stage theories (like that of piaget/ erikson/ freud/ loveinger/ big five), but I have also linked to many relevant posts from the situationist blog and am only too aware of the power of situations.

The first person however , who took arms against the prevailing emphasis on personality and introduced the all important concept of situation in the picture was Walter Mishcel. though , he is most well known for this and his work on delay of gratification in children, he has also given an alternative to traits that we could use while assessing personality. these are the social and cognitive person variables that distinguish one person from other. It is interesting to note that these person variables too form a hierarchy and I suspect that they also follow a developmental pattern.

The five social and cognitive learning person variables Mischel uses are:

  1. Competencies: skills, problem-solving strategies, concepts about the world, based on experiences; allows for successful adaptation; Cattell’s fluid intelligence; tools for “doing commerce” with the world; one’s capabilities.
  2. Encoding strategies and personal constructs: attentional strategies and individual schemas: what you pay attention to, and what meaning you attach to the stimulus to attend to; categorization is a personal construct that allows one to understand the world; subjective interpretation; provides some consistency in the person’s behavior, although capable on being changed, which accounts for inconsistencies in behavior. One’s interpretations
  3. Expectancies: behavior outcome expectancies: if I do this, then I can expect that; expectancies will be based on past experiences with similar situations; sometimes specific information is available that can create or change expectancies. If one’s can’t change expectancies when given new specific information, then Mischel considered the person maladaptive. The maladaptive individual is acting in accord with expectancies that do not represent the actual behavior-outcome rules in that particular situation. A second kind of expectancy relates to our confidence in our ability to perform competently, called self-efficacy. Our perceived self-efficacy is related to our capacity to do what needs to be done. A third kind of expectancy relates to the stimulus-outcome association: if this happens, I can expect this to follow.
  4. Subjective values: one’s personal values are a variable in one’s decision to behave in a certain way. They are essentially the reinforcers for one’s behavior
  5. Self-regulatory systems and plans: behaviors depend on intrinsic reinforcement or punishment, based on our own performance standards. Future goals are made and plans are then compatible with these goals. We are teleological and purposeful in our behaviors.

To me this follows the five stage model. We first develop competencies , so that we can produce a range of behavioral outcomes. We then acquire knowledge using personal constructs and encoding schema’s, and this is done idiosyncratically and subjectively to assess a situation. In the third step, we match situation (stimulus expectancy) and our behavior expectancies (self-efficacy expectancies) to predict how we should behave and what results we will get (outcome expectancies). In the fourth stage having assessed what outcome a behavior is likely to produce we analyze whether we subjectively value the outcome. The subjective valuation of outcome would still be guided by how others in our social circle have valuation for that outcome.In the final fifth stage, we put our individual spins on the outcome achievement by having things like intrinsic motivation and self-regulatory mechanisms. All this flows nicely and I strongly suspect that we develop a capacity to use a person variable only after a certain developmental phase is over.

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