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, 97 (6), 1097-114

The Implications of Big Five Standing for the Distribution of Trait Manifestation in Behavior: Fifteen Experience-Sampling Studies and a Meta-Analysis


The Implications of Big Five Standing for the Distribution of Trait Manifestation in Behavior: Fifteen Experience-Sampling Studies and a Meta-Analysis

William Fleeson et al. J Pers Soc Psychol.


One of the fundamental questions in personality psychology is whether and how strongly trait standing relates to the traits that people actually manifest in their behavior when faced with real pressures and real consequences of their actions. One reason this question is fundamental is the common belief that traits do not predict how individuals behave, which leads to the reasonable conclusion that traits are not important to study. However, this conclusion is surprising given that there is almost no data on the ability of traits to predict distributions of naturally occurring, representative behaviors of individuals (and that there are many studies showing that traits do indeed predict specific behaviors). The authors describe a meta-analysis of 15 experience-sampling studies, conducted over the course of 8 years, amassing over 20,000 reports of trait manifestation in behavior. Participants reported traits on typical self-report questionnaires, then described their current behavior multiple times per day for several days as the behavior was occurring. Results show that traits, contrary to expectations, were strongly predictive of individual differences in trait manifestation in behavior, predicting average levels with correlations between .42 and .56 (approaching .60 for stringently restricted studies). Several other ways of summarizing trait manifestation in behavior were also predicted from traits. These studies provide evidence that traits are powerful predictors of actual manifestation of traits in behavior.


Figure 1
Figure 1. Effects of Study Factors on State Predictability
Bars show correlation between trait questionnaire and corresponding state average, averaged across all traits. Even when all 15 studies were included, the correlations were strong. However, when limited to studies with high reliability or high item overlap, correlations were even stronger, approaching .60.
Figure 2
Figure 2. Distributions of actual trait-manifestation in behavior for those high and those low on a trait
Each figure shows the density distribution of states for those one SD above and those one SD below the mean on the trait. As shown, there are reliable differences in mean behavior on the trait, but there are also large overlaps in behavior. The differences between those high and those low on a trait are not so much in non-overlapping ways of acting, nor in the extremes, but rather in the frequencies with which moderately high and moderately low behaviors for the trait are enacted.

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