Personality and Behavior

Learning OUtcomes

  • Discuss how personality traits can influence or predict behavior

Image of several grey umbrellas floating in the sky. A single yellow umbrella floats in the middle of the picture in front of the grey umbrellas.As we discussed in the last section, personality traits do not fall under a one-size-fits-all category. Every individual has their own unique personality that helps to form their outlook on life and shapes their interactions with others. Imagine being able to take an individual’s personality fingerprint and predict how they would act in any given scenario. While seeing into the future is impossible, using personality traits to predict an individual’s behavior is on the spectrum of possibilities.

Personalities have been studied and discussed dating back to Ancient Greece and Roman times. Research has been conducted for years and years to try to determine how to properly predict behavior using an individual’s personality traits. However, in the 1970s, after years of research and testing, psychologists Daryl Bem and Walter Mischel had limited success in making consistently successful predictions[1]. Their frustrations led them to believe that situational factors and stressors were more responsible for decisions than an individual’s personality.

So which is it? Is it personality or the situation that plays a leading role in influencing a person’s behavior? The short answer is both. Many people expect a clear-cut answer to the question. However, that is an impossible task when it comes to predicting behavior. It is important to take into account the individual’s personality in addition to the situation they find themselves in. The next section will discuss how situations can influence behavior, but for the purpose of this section, let’s explore the benefits and limitations of using personality to predict behavior.

Personality traits are all on a spectrum. The more extreme an individual is on the spectrum, the easier it is to predict their behavior. Since many personality tests focus on broad traits (OCEAN for example), there is a wide range for interpretation. Let’s look at introverts versus extraverts as an example. Everyone falls somewhere on the introvert vs. extravert scale. Even if you are more of an extravert than an introvert you may still not be considered a very outgoing person. Depending on the group of individuals you find yourself with may also change others’ perception of you. For example, if you are surrounded by extremely extraverted people, you may appear to be introverted, even though you consider yourself an extravert. Similar to weight or height, everyone has a measurement unique to them but it may appear to be higher or lower when compared to that of others. According to McAndrew,[2]

Research has shown that the more to one of the extremes a person falls on a trait, the more consistently the trait will be a factor in his or her behavior.

It is also important to take into consideration that observing personality traits in multiple scenarios can be more accurate in predicting behavior. Trying to make a prediction based on a single interaction does not paint a completely accurate picture of an individual. Being able to observe the varying degrees of an individual’s personality can help to better understand a person and determine the best way to maximize their strengths and support their weaknesses.

PRactice Question

Photograph of two men and a woman sitting at a table in a cafe. One man has a laptop open on the table.So how is predicting behavior helpful in the workplace? Using personality traits to form workgroups and teams can be extremely beneficial in the long run. As we discussed in previous modules, diversity is important to success. At the same time, pairing together like-minded individuals can help to promote efficiency and collaboration. Using personality traits and tests to form teams can help to bring together a beautifully balanced group. It is important to keep in mind; however, that observing an individual’s personality multiple times may provide additional insight into how they operate. It is extremely important to utilize new found information and observations to rearrange team dynamics.

Personality traits alone cannot successfully predict behavior. Situations also play an important role in determining how an individual will act. Let’s move onto the next section to better evaluate and understand the role situations play in determining behavior and influencing personality.

References

Roberts, Brent W., Nathan R. Kuncel, Rebecca Shiner, Avshalom Caspi, and Lewis R. Goldberg. “The Power of Personality: The Comparative Validity of Personality Traits, Socioeconomic Status, and Cognitive Ability for Predicting Important Life Outcomes.” Perspectives on Psychological Science, December 2007, 313-45. Accessed April 16, 2019. doi:10.1111/j.1745-6916.2007.00047.x.


  1. McAndrew, Frank T., Ph.D. "When Do Personality Traits Predict Behavior?" Psychology Today. October 2, 2018. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/out-the-ooze/201810/when-do-personality-traits-predict-behavior.
  2. Ibid.