The aim of this proposal is to examine how much people know about the fluctuations in their own personality. Do people know how much their personality fluctuates? Do they know how their personality has changed? Are others sometimes more accurate at detecting these fluctuations than we are ourselves? These personality processes are at the core of who a person is -- to understand someone (or oneself) is to understand the psychological dynamics that make a person who she is. Personality research, however, has focused almost exclusively on global dispositions -- what a person is typically like. This overlooks the nuances of personality -- how people vary across situations and over time. How much insight do people have into these dynamic personality processes? When and why do others sometimes have greater insight into these aspects of personality than does the person him- or herself? The research proposed here will compare self- and other-perceptions of these core aspects of personality with objective, naturalistic criterion measures.

One unique feature of the research proposed here is that it will capitalize on technological advances to include naturalistic measures of behaviors and situations. Naturalistic, non-reactive measures of everyday behavior can be obtained using the Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR). The EAR consists of a small, pocket-sized digital audio recorder worn by participants that periodically records snippets of ambient sounds, resulting in an objective, ecologically-valid measure of everyday behavior.

Study 1 will examine the accuracy of people's own views of their personality fluctuation and of ratings of their personality fluctuation by people who know them well (i.e., friends and family). This study will then use the EAR and Experience Sampling Methods (ESM) to obtain objective measures of participants' actual fluctuations in personality. These results will shed light on whether people are aware of the variability in their own and others' thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Study 2 will follow a group of participants over four years to examine the accuracy of their own and close others' perceptions of how their personality changes. By using repeated EAR and ESM assessments, this study should reveal whether people are aware of changes in their personality over time.

The research proposed here has important theoretical implications. Determining how well people understand their own personality processes will help scientists understand the extent to which these processes operate at a conscious or unconscious level. Questions about when one should or should not trust self-perceptions are of abiding interest to our social species. In addition, this research could ultimately help psychologists design interventions to improve self-knowledge, a central goal of psychological inquiry and practice. Finally, this research will have important implications for anyone relying on self-reports to measure behavior. This line of research should lead to an empirically-validated model to guide researchers' and practitioners' decisions about when to use self- or informant-based reports.

This grant would help promote the involvement of underrepresented groups in scientific research by supporting a research team from a wide variety of backgrounds.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Sally Dickerson
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Washington University
Saint Louis
United States
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