PsycCRITIQUES - Contemporary Psychology: APA Review of Books
On Adding Apples and Oranges in Personality Psychology
A review of
Personality, Cognition, and Social Interaction
Nancy Cantor and John F. Kihlstrom (Eds.)
Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum, 1981. 376 pp. $24.95

Reviewed by
Robert Hogan

Contemporary personality psychology can be described in terms of two distinct traditions, which I call the Harvard-Michigan-Berkeley (HMB) and the Princeton-Pennsylvania-Stanford (PPS) viewpoints. Each is typified by a specific subject matter, methodology, and theoretical orientation. The HMB viewpoint takes as its subject matter human nature and analyzes its forms of excellence and depravity. Rooted in traditional analytic or depth psychology, the HMB approach stresses individual differences, practical problems, and a measurement or assessment methodology. The HMB viewpoint is largely associated with "traditional personality psychology."

In rather sharp contrast with the foregoing, the PPS viewpoint takes as its subject matter certain part processes of human performance—memory, perception, information processing—and is concerned with describing the normative properties of these part processes. Rooted in contemporary cognitive psychology, the PPS viewpoint is ahistorical and stresses general laws, pure research, and an experimental methodology. The PPS viewpoint appears to have developed in reaction to traditional personality psychology.

This book, the proceedings of a conference on personality and cognitive psychology, is a product of the PPS viewpoint. To evaluate the book, one must very carefully distinguish between two issues. The first issue is whether the book succeeds in meeting its overt agenda, which is to provide a critique of and an alternative to "traditional personality psychology" (or the HMB viewpoint). The second is whether the book contains material that is interesting in its own right. With regard to the first issue, Personality, Cognition, and Social Interaction is not a very successful critique of, nor does it provide a compelling alternative to, traditional personality psychology for two broad and rather basic reasons.

A critical miss

The book fails in its critical agenda first of all because the authors have a confused and inaccurate vision of what they are trying to criticize. A careful reading of Mischel's chapter, for example, reveals that there are no trait psychologists as described here; rather, a nonexistent intellectual tradition is presented and then successfully refuted. Moreover, with the exception of the chapter by Athay and Darley, only a superficial acquaintanceship with psychoanalysis and traditional depth psychology is shown. The major work in personality in the HMB tradition over the past fifty years would include the following: research at the Harvard Psychological Clinic, as reported in Murray's (1938) Explorations in Personality; McClelland's sweeping and provocative studies of achievement motivation; the informative Kelly-Fiske VA study of clinical psychologists; Berkeley research on the psychodynamics of prejudice as reported in The Authoritarian Personality (Adorno, 1969); and the in many ways definitive Institute of Personality Assessment and Research studies of creativity by Donald MacKinnon, Harrison Gough, and Frank Barron. It is simply false to say that this research "was primarily concerned with locating the individual with respect to a number of dimensions representing enduring characteristic dispositions, as formulated in the classic trait theories" (p. xi), whatever these classic trait theories might be.

My point is that the cognitive social learning theorists repeatedly criticize positions that do not exist. Along the way, however, they are guilty of a range of other factual and logical errors. Consider, for example, the following: "trait research involves obtaining correlations between dispositional self-descriptions and behavior in relevant settings. The generally poor predictive validity of self-report measures of traits suggests two conclusions" (p. 266). There are three errors here: (a) A theoretical position is invented—there is in fact no coherent tradition of trait theory; (b) this nonexistent tradition cannot, therefore, have the research agenda described; and (c) validity coefficients in competently conducted research are routinely in the .6–.7 range. Or consider the following: We are told repeatedly that traditional personality psychology perversely ignores a "situationist perspective." But what is this situationist perspective that we so perversely ignore? A careful reading of the book reveals that the term is undefined or rather is defined in so many different ways that no common referent can be extracted. But finally, we learn with a jolt that, in empirical research, "We find a clear preference for SELF and OTHER cues over SITUATION cues under all circumstances. Subjects clearly are not willing to ascribe much predictive utility to situational factors in social interaction" (p. 35). Perhaps the advocates of a situational perspective should pay closer attention to their own data.

A different subject matter

Related to the foregoing discussion is the question of whether the PPS viewpoint offers a persuasive alternative to traditional personality psychology as an account of human nature. The answer is No because cognitive social learning theory is concerned with part processes—miniature theories of social perception and cognition—and does not deal with many of the issues that concern traditional personality psychology. For example, there is virtually no discussion of unconscious processes and self-deception, which are major concerns of traditional personality psychology. The topic of motivation is largely absent, as are the subjects of socialization and personality development. With the exception of the chapter by Fiske and Kinder, there is no mention of individual differences. It is therefore hard to understand how cognitive social learning theory provides an alternative to, much less expands the horizons of, traditional personality psychology when it is concerned with an almost entirely different subject matter.

But some important work is here

I mentioned at the outset that a proper evaluation of this book would distinguish between two questions. The first concerns whether the book provides an effective critique of and an alternative to the HMB viewpoint, and the answer is clearly No. The second question concerns whether the book is interesting in its own right, and the answer is largely Yes. There are a few weak chapters, but several are quite good indeed. A chapter on construct accessibility by Higgins and King is clearly written, with precise definitions and a nice sense of the history of the problem. A chapter on personality and memory by Kihlstrom offers yet another inaccurate characterization of traditional personality psychology, but it is otherwise thoughtful, scholarly, and informative. The chapter by Fiske and Kinder is a brief, lucid, and interesting account of the relation between personal involvement and schema availability. The essay by Markus and Smith on self-concept and social perception is simply fascinating. Finally, the paper by Athay and Darley crackles with high voltage intellectual energy. In it the authors bring a symbolic interactionist analysis of social action into the latter part of the twentieth century, updating Mead in an interesting and philosophically sophisticated way. The paper is important, profound, and required reading for any serious student of personality psychology. A milestone paper, it alone is worth the price of admission. The remaining papers vary between the dreary and the misinformed, sometimes managing to be both simultaneously.


Nancy Cantor, associate professor of psychology at Princeton University, is currently visiting scholar at the Cognitive Science Center of the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor). She won the 1979 Dissertation Award of the Society of Experimental Social Psychology. Cantor is coauthor with W. Mischel of the chapter "Prototypes in Person Perception" in L. Berkowitz's Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 12.

John F. Kihlstrom is associate professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. He received APA's Distinguished Scientific Award for an Early Career Contribution to Psychology in the field of personality in 1979. Kihlstrom is coeditor of Functional Disorders of Memory with F. J. Evans.

Robert Hogan is professor and chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of Tulsa. He is author of Personality Theory and of the chapter "A Socioanalytic Theory of Personality" in M. Page's Nebraska Symposium of Motivation (forthcoming).

Previously published in Contemporary Psychology: A Journal of Reviews, November 1982, Vol. 27, No. 11, 851–852
© 1982, American Psychological Association