Publication Date

2016-06-02

Availability

Open access

Embargo Period

2016-06-02

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)

Department

Educational and Psychological Studies (Education)

Date of Defense

2015-06-25

First Committee Member

Blaine J. Fowers

Second Committee Member

Daniel Santisteban

Third Committee Member

Robert McMahon

Fourth Committee Member

Michael McCullough

Abstract

Personality and social psychologists have debated the importance of trait and situational explanations of behavior for nearly a century (e.g., Epstein & O’Brien, 1985; Mischel, 1968). Though many contemporary personality and social psychologists advocate an interactionist paradigm for understanding the impact of situational factors and traits, most research studies trait or situational factors in isolation. Few studies of interaction effects have been conducted. Further, experiments exploring interaction effects have been limited by their reliance on a narrow understanding of traits and by their use of self-reported instead of observed helping behavior. The present study addresses these limitations by assessing the interaction between the situational factor of induced mood and robust traits of kindness and agreeableness on observed helping behavior. The study is guided by the research question: are situational influences, character traits, and their interaction all necessary to explain behavior? To answer this question, 121 undergraduates from a private university in the southeastern region of the United States were recruited to participate in a study about the influence of traits and mood on helping behavior. Participants completed two commonly used measures of traits—the 44-item version of the Big Five Inventory (BFI; John & Srivastava, 1999) and the 120-item version of the Values in Action Inventory (VIA; Peterson & Seligman, 2004). Participants’ scores on the Agreeableness subscale of the BFI and the Kindness subscale of the VIA were used as primary measures of traits relevant to helping behavior. Participants also completed a bogus intelligence test after which they received one of three kinds of false feedback designed to induce either a positive, negative, or neutral mood. Following this manipulation, participants were given the opportunity to help the researcher retrieve spilled pencils. The number of pencils retrieved was recorded as the primary dependent variable. Three main hypotheses were examined to assess the research question. First, I hypothesized that there would be a main effect for trait measures on helping behavior. This hypothesis was supported as Kindness emerged as a significant predictor of helping behavior (Beta = .30). Agreeableness, however, was not found to be significantly related to helping behavior (Beta = -.02). Second, I hypothesized that there would be a main effect for situational factors (feedback) on helping behavior. This hypothesis was not supported as feedback was not found to be significantly predictive of later helping behavior, F(2, 114) = .13, p = .87, eta squared < .01. Third, I hypothesized that there would be an interaction effect between trait measures and situational factors. I hypothesized four separate interactions, all of which were non-significant, failing to support hypothesis 3. Two of the four interactions (Kindness with positive feedback and Kindness with negative feedback) trended significance but were not in the direction hypothesized. Taken together, the results of this study indicate that virtue-specific measures such as kindness may be useful in understanding behavior in place of more general personality trait measures. Future studies should employ differing experimental manipulations of mood that may be more sensitive to individual differences to further test the lack of mood effects on helping behavior.

Keywords

Person vs. situation debate; situational factor; personality trait; character trait; helping behavior

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