Situational Influences on Personality

Learning Outcomes

  • Discuss situational influences on personality

decorative imageCertain situations and circumstances can influence a person’s day in a positive or negative way. Depending on the circumstance, a normally positive person may become more negative. On the other hand, a traditionally pessimistic person may appear to be more positive. So how is this possible? You have experienced both triumphs and tribulations in your lifetime and whether or not you realized it, they most likely impacted the way you acted and altered your personality for that period of time. It is human nature for emotions and personalities to differ depending on what is happening in our lives.

Even if we are not aware of what others may be going through, it is reasonable to assume that certain situations in the lives of all individuals impacts their personality. For example, you are out with friends, and you see your friend Lorenzo, who is the most extroverted person in the group, crying in the corner. Does this mean Lorenzo is no longer an extravert but rather an introvert? Or could he be crying because he just heard some upsetting news? Chances are, the latter option is a more realistic one. While the news may have changed his personality during that social setting on that day, it most likely did not alter it permanently.

Let’s look at another example. The coworker you disagree with most, Kayla, who constantly argues against your ideas, comes into work Monday morning with a pep in her step. At your team meeting, she completely supports your proposed project idea and offers to help execute it. Has Kayla turned a corner and has decided to end the feud between you two? Possibly. But odds are there is something in her life that has temporarily altered her personality. What you may not know, is that over the weekend her all time favorite team won the Super Bowl. Her excitement from the day before spilled over into Monday, presenting a much different version of Kayla that seems to like you a great deal more.

These are just two small examples of how situations in people’s lives can alter the way they act. People can also change their personality based on who they’re around. If the person you’re with makes you uncomfortable, you’re not likely to be very talkative and offer up good conversation. However, if you’re on the phone with a friend you haven’t talked to for awhile, you’re likely to have an animated conversation.

PRactice Question

If situations can influence personality and personality can predict behavior, then situational influences also contribute to predicting behavior. It also brings into question whether or not personality traits are consistent since they are easily influenced by situations. In 1968, Walter Mischel published a book entitled Personality & Assessment. In his book, Mischel argued that an interactionist approach was best suited when exploring personality, situations, and behavior. This interactionist approach believes that both personality and situational circumstances create behavior. In addition, Mischel explained that personalities tend to differ across a range of situations (personality at work versus home); however, they keep consistencies within similar situations (work meetings). This revelation created an upset in the traditional view of personality by arguing that personality stability and instability can each exist at the same time.[1]

A loop indicating that the situation affects personality and personality affects the situationThere are two main correlations to remember here:

  1. Situations can influence an individual’s personality.
  2. An individual’s personality paired with the situation can help to predict behavior.

Companies can use these correlations to create stronger and more efficient teams. While unique circumstances may arise, understanding personality traits is the first step in developing a strong organization.

  1. Tweten, Carol. Intraindividual Personality Change: Situational Influences, Patterns of Change, and Frequency-based Measurement. Master's thesis, University of Northern Iowa, 2014.