Volume 1, Issue 4
4th Quarter, 2006

Strategies for Personality Transfer

William Sims Bainbridge

page 7 of 15

When you ask people to describe themselves, you place them in a social situation where all kinds of factors may shape their responses, notably the desire to make a favorable impression which is called social desirability bias (Crowne and Marlow, 1960).[1] Additionally, people may be more or less poorly prepared to describe their views of themselves in words. Thus, it can be Bainbridgeuseful to distinguish explicit and implicit views of self, and to use measurement methods that go beyond superficial appearances. For example, in 1954, Kuhn and McPartland devised a simple twenty statement test that asked a person to write twenty answers to the question “Who am I?”. The trick was that the test is scored by assigning answers to categories that the respondents probably did not expect, what the test’s inventors called consensual (social group membership) and subconsensual (individual characteristics). The results tell you not how good or bad the person is, qualities potentially distorted by social desirability bias, but how strongly oriented toward membership in social groups versus individualistic.

Perhaps the most impressive recent work on implicit attitudes, including implicit views of self, is the program of research using the Implicit Association Test launched by Anthony Greenwald and Mahzarin Banaji.[2,3] Not really a specific test but a general method of testing, the IAT administers a number of quick questions, usually asking the respondent to select one of two stimuli and recording not only the answers but also the latency of response, the time it takes the person to answer. It is perhaps worth noting that the idea of measuring the latency of response as a tool of personality investigation dates back nearly a century to the work of Carl G. Jung[4], although computers greatly facilitate the method today with markedly improved accuracy and convenience.

Self-esteem is a fundamental concept in social psychology, yet it is also a controversial one. Cultures of the world differ in terms of how much they require modestly in self-expressions, and occupational statuses differ in how self-assertive or boastful a person is allowed to be. Recently, there has been debate about whether activities designed to increase self-esteem actually help people, making them either more confident or happier (Baumeister et al., 2005).[5] Research on self-esteem took a new direction with two of the software modules I designed, Self and Self II, that ask a person to rate how good a number of personal descriptors are, and how much they describe the respondent.

Image 4: A screenshot of Bainbridge’s Personality Capture Module “Self II”

A very direct and individually-normed measure of self-esteem is the statistical correlation across a number of items, between how good and how much like the respondent they are, in the respondent’s judgment. A key result of this research is the confirmation that an individual will have several different kinds of self-esteem, each relating to a different aspect of the person. For example, it is quite common for a person to have high self-esteem with respect to intellect but low self-esteem with respect to physical characteristics, or vice versa.

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1. Crowne, Douglas P., and David Marlow. 1960 “A New Scale of Social Desirability Independent of Psychopathology,” Journal of Consulting Psychology, 24: 349-354. (back to top)

2. Kim, Do-Yeong. 2003. “Voluntary Controllability of the Implicit Association Test (IAT),” Social Psychology Quarterly, 66(1): 83-96. (back to top)

3. Hofmann, Wilhelm, Bertram Gawronski, Tobias Gschwendner, Huy Le, and Manfred Schmitt. 2005. “A Meta-analysis on the Correlation between the Implicit Association Test and Explicit Self-report Measures,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin: 31, 1369-1385. (back to top)

4. Jung, Carl G. 1910. “The Association Method,” American Journal of Psychology, 31: 219-269. (back to top)

5. Baumeister, Roy F., Jennifer D. Campbell, Joachim I. Krueger and Kathleen D. Vohs. 2005. “Exploding the Self-Esteem Myth,” Scientific American, 292(1): 70-77. (back to top)

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