Choosing between mischel and rotters explaining personality

Both Julian Rotter and Walter Mischel proposed the social cognitive approach to personality. Known as social cognitive theorists, Mischel and Rotter suggested that conscious thoughts and emotions determine the difference between people and guide the way they behave (Mischel, 2004). The social cognitive approach is not based on the description of an individual’s personality rather than on the principles of human learning. Thus, they believe that our personality is formed through the learning processes such as observation and interaction with the family and others in social situations.

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From an interactionist point of view, people’s interaction with their environment predicts their behavior. Rotter suggested that changes in personality can occur at any time but the basic unity that it has prevents it from changing as a result of minor experiences. Rotter talked about the law of effect, as such, he believed that the way people act is a determinant of an anticipated goal.

According to Rotter, four variables predict human behavior: behavior potential, expectancy, reinforcement value, and the psychological situation. Behaviour potential is the first component of Rotter’s theory. Behaviour potential refers to the possibility of engaging in a specific act in a particular situation. A person has a choice of behaviour to acquire in a given time and place.

The second variable is Expectancy which refers to the a person’s expectancy that a given behaviour will lead to a reinforce. Expectancy can either be General or specific. A specific expectancy is the belief that a particular behaviour at a certain time and place will lead to an outcome. General expectancies are the beliefs that anything a person is doing will make a difference. Rotter believed that the combination of the specific and general expectancies lead to reinforcement. The effort a person devote to achieve his goal will be determined by the total expectancy.

The third variable is the reinforcement value. Reinforcement value is Rotter’s conception of motivation. The thing a person wants to attain has high reinforcement value. The constancy of expectancies and situational variables when there is preference of reinforcement shape behaviour. According to Rotter the perception of people known as the ‘internal reinforcement’ influences behaviour.

The fourth variable considered by Rotter is the psychological situation which is in his prediction formula. He believed that people’s interaction with their environment result in their way of behaving. He suggested that different people will interpret the same environment differently.

Moreover, Mischel’s cognitive affective theory does suggest that individual’s behaviour is characterized by the beliefs that they learn, expectancies and feelings but along with that he claimed that these particular characteristics make them different from other people. He termed these characteristics as cognitive person variables which shows the dimensions of the difference between people differ (Mischel, 2004, 569).

Mischel named some important cognitive person variables that affect a person when adapting to an environment (Shoda and Mischel, 2006) :

Encoding strategies are a person’s belief about his environment and other people. Unlike the social learning theory, people make use of their cognitive processes to form personal constructs from the external stimuli. The way people encode an event is different which shows their individual differences in personal constructs. Also, Mischel suggested that stimulus can be altered by how people interpret experiences and to what they attend selectively.

Expectancies refer to the person’s belief of his capacity and what the person expects from his previous behaviour.

Affects refer to feelings and emotions. Affective responses emphasize on a person’s behaviour is determined by the interaction of people’s cognitive processes with a specific situation. The affective responses are not separable from cognitions and they influence other cognitive-affective units.

Goals and values are what the person want to achieve and believe in.

Competencies and self-regulatory plans refer to the person’s capacity in terms of his thoughts and actions, his ability to engage in goal directed behaviour. As people do not attend to all stimuli in the environment, they selectively create the world in which they live. Also, the self regulatory plans make people to plan and maintain their behaviours.

According to Mischel, these cognitive variables as well as the features of the situation have to be identified to predict a person’s behaviour in a given situation. Hence, the interaction of the person and situation lead to behaviour. Mischel suggested that only if a person come upon a specific behaviour, then his behaviour will reflect the characteristics he has learned in that particular situation (Kammrath, Mendoza-Denton and Mischel, 2005).

Rotter’s social cognitive theory was based on the locus of control whereas Mischel’s cognitive affective theory was based on situation versus person variables. Mischel’s theory was an extension of Rotter’s social cognitive approach. Just like Rotter believed that people’s reaction to environmental forces are more determined by cognitive factors than immediate reinforcements, Mischel claimed that behaviour is determined by both situation variables (environmental factors: rewards and punishments) and person variables (internal personal factors). The two person variables : expectancies and subjective values in Mischel’s theory have the same meaning as in Rotter’s model. As an extension of Rotter’s social cognitive theory, Mischel added other person variables like competencies, encoding strategies and self regulatory systems and plans.

Mischel strongly believed that the interaction of both environmental and personal factors develops behaviour. He claimed that we have to take into account what we know about a particular person and the present situation to predict the latter’s behaviour.

Furthermore, he laid emphasis on how emotions and person variables interacted. He argued that negative emotions like depression affects people’s interpretation of their experiences and expectancies they hold about the future (Mischel and Shoda, 1995, p.498). Also, Mischel suggested that emotion variables just like cognition depend on how people interpret and label their experiences.

The cognitive-affective personality system proposed the consistency paradox which refer to the variability across situations and stability in a person’s behaviour. Mischel believed that variations in the behaviour pattern is neither caused by random error nor the situation alone. He rather believed that these variations in behaviour patterns predict behaviour that mirror stable patterns of variation within a person.

Mischel and Shoda (1995) devised the It…then framework which they believe can conceptualise the variations in behaviour. The relationship of the if…then in this framework is as such: If A, then X; but if B, then Y. A and B are taken as situations in which the individual is in and X and Y are the ways people behave as a result of the situations they are facing.

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For example if Mark is provoked by his wife (situation A), then he will react with aggression (X). “if” changes and so, “then” also changes. In the first situation If Mark is being provoked by his wife (situation A), he will react aggressively (X). In a second situation (B), if Mark is being provoked by his boss then he will obey with submission (reaction Y). In these two situations we can see that Mark’s behavior is inconsistent, but Mischel and Shoda believed that being provoked by two different persons is not the same stimulus. Instead, they suggested that Mark’s behavior reflects a stable behavior pattern.

Thus this framework claimed that the way people react to situations depend on cognitions( for example : perceptions, illusions) and affective (for example feelings) related with them.

Mischel and Shoda (1995) proposed a second example where two persons are qualified as “irritable” but their irritability is caused differently. In the example he said that 2 persons are “irritable”: Person 1 likes to be the center of attention and likes interaction with others. Thus, Person 1 gets irritable when no one pays attention to him/her. Person 2 likes to be alone and gets irritable when people start to relate their lives. In addition to, there are two situations: Situation A reflects no interaction among people (e.g. Business meeting), It is just a boring situation. In situation B, such interactions are mostly frequent (e.g. parties). Therefore, based on if…Then Framework, Person 1 will feel irritated in situation A and not B, whereas Person 2 will feel irritated in situation B and not A.

The If…then framework is based on the Behavioral Signature of Personality. The Behavioural Signature of Personality is the variation in an individual’s behaviour in specific situations. In the example of Mark; his Behavioral Signature of Personality is his consistent manner to vary his behavior across situations; that is he will not react aggressively in all situations (Feist, 2004).

M ischel took traits into consideration and contend that some basic traits are persistent over time. Mischel himself argued that the idea of consistency of personality across situations is not right. Mischel and Peake (1982) examined the consistency of “conscientiousness” and “friendliness” in college students. The result was that students responded inconsistently across situations. Mischel’s social cognitive theory maintains that people’s behavior is specific to the context of the situation. For example, somebody can be honest at work but can cheat on taxes. This approach does not predict depends that behavior will be consistent across situations. Behavior depends mainly on the consequences of the actions (such as rewards). However, according to Mischel, consistency can occur when the same behavior is reinforced in a variety of situations or if a person is unable to discriminate among situations. For Mischel traits can be useful as they provide summaries of multiple behavioral observations and as such have descriptive usefulness. Traits affect behavior differently in different situations under certain conditions. For example, the trait of aggression will be apparent only under circumstances like when a person feels frustrated or angry. People with the trait aggressiveness act differently from those who are low in this trait. Moreover, Mischel’s theory considers the prior experiences in life. The prior experience play a role in situational context. Thoughts and emotions activated by a particular situation are the results of prior experiences with the particular situations. Therefore, situational variables as well as experiences play a role in the occurrence of any behavior.

Rotter, on the other hand, attaches great importance to needs of people, as needs indicate the direction of behavior. Mischel talks goals only. Whereas Rotter’s theory speaks of goals when the focus is on the environment and speaks of needs when the focus is on the person. Rotter and Hochriech (1975) listed six categories of needs: recognition-status, protection-dependency, love and affection and physical comfort.

In my own view, Mischel’s theory is better off than that of Rotter’s. Mischel even took into consideration the personality traits which he believed account for little of the variance in human behaviour. His aim was to replace traits like ‘sociability’ or ‘dominance’ into traits of his own invention.

His theory was closely based on the social learning theory of Rotter but he combined the social learning theory with the knowledge about mental processes from cognitive psychology.

Mischel with the help of his student, Shoda issued an updated version of his original theory. His new version had five variables instead of four and the new variable was “affects”, feelings or emotions. The addition of the new variable was due to the research made in 1995 which found that social information and processing and coping behaviour was influenced by affects and emotions (Mischel and Shoda, 1995, p.252).

Another aspect which Mischel included in the new version of the theory was the description of personality as a “cognitive-affective system.” According to his new theory, he claimed that the importance in the five cognitive social learning person variables lie in their simultaneous interaction. Therefore, personality is a “stable system that mediates how the individual processes, chooses and constructs social information and produces social behaviours” (Mischel and Shoda, 1995). The cognitive affective personality system further claims that a person’s behaviour will change based on a particular situation but in a meaningful manner.

Mischel and Shoda (1995, 1998, 1999) even devised a framework and suggested that variations in behaviour can be predicted from it and he took into consideration the consistency paradox in explaining people’s behaviour.

Moreover, Mischel places his cognitive theory against the traditional trait theory. As such, he argued that his theoretical cognitive person variables are superior to the traits as they express scientific rather than understanding.

Unlike Rotter, Mischel and his colleagues believed in the importance of moving from a theoretical perspective of personality out of conceptualizations like “irritability” to a more scientific conceptualizations like “encoding competency.”

Mischel’s theory is an advance over the trait approach as well. His person variables focus on the psychological processes in shaping behaviour rather than on the behaviours itself.

Another advantage of Mischel’s theory is that individual differences in behaviour become conceptualized as patterns not as average levels.



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