Huib Valkenberg & Michael W. Katzko
University of Nijmegen, The Netherlands




While dynamic theories of personality stress that people show systematic variation in trait-like behavior across contexts, trait theories predict no cross-contextual variation in behavior. Moreover, trait methodologies, such as the NEO-PI, typically do not provide any opportunity for respondents to report possible contextualizing of their so-called trait characteristics. This raises two issues. First, we need to establish empirically when and how contextualizing takes place. Second, if it does, constraints are placed on a theory of personality to explain such contextualizing. Fifty behavioral statements were selected from the NEO-PI and response formats were chosen which allowed respondents to report behavioral contextualization. In addition to the standard format to assess a 'general average' of behavior, two other formats were used: (1) a rating of perceived contextual variation for that behavior, and (2) an open format where respondents could report specific situations, persons, or other contexts within which the behavioral variation occurs. In addition to reporting 'general averages' on the items, subjects reported variations within these general averages. The magnitude of such variation also differed among behavioral items. Content analysis of the open response data revealed systematic contextual categories that respondents perceive to be responsible for this variation. Of special interest is the level of abstraction with which respondents spontaneously reported contextualization; for example, being with people they know versus strangers, whether the situation is formal or informal, or whether they feel personally responsible in a certain situation. The implications of these results, both for methodology and for a more dynamic and multifaceted interpretation of personality, will be discussed.