PsycCRITIQUES - Contemporary Psychology: APA Review of Books
On Agency and Adaptiveness in the Study of Personality
A review of
Personality and Social Intelligence
Nancy Cantor and John F. Kihlstrom
Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1987. 290 pp. ISBN 0-13-657966-3. $32.00

Reviewed by
Susan M. Andersen

The term social intelligence in Personality and Social Intelligence refers to the concepts, memories, and rules people use to understand social life and to solve the problems of daily living. The authors take an "unabashedly mentalist position that places concepts and rules at the center of personality" (p. 238) and argue that people have the capacity for tremendous flexibility in their interpretations of events, other people, and themselves. At the same time, the authors suggest that people gravitate toward situations and life tasks that are consistent with their knowledge, and in this way demonstrate a kind of "intentional consistency" (p. 237) in their interpretations and social behavior. The book is well structured and timely and provides a useful synthesis of a variety of empirical literatures in personality-social psychology by relying on this basic theme.

The intentional and motivational underpinnings of people's responses are at the heart of the present enterprise. Intentions and motivations shape subsequent interactions, guide the situations people enter, and influence the life tasks people define for themselves. The authors recognize, of course, that building a model of this kind of "motivated" social intelligence is complex for a number of reasons. For one, motivations as causes of outcomes can be difficult to empirically demonstrate without resorting to statements of teleology. For another, any particular person's memories, concepts, and rules are idiosyncratic and often activated without conscious awareness. Nonetheless, the authors argue that people do guide their cognitions, affects, and behaviors by using their social intelligence or expertise. They define expertise in two ways: first, as the concepts individuals possess (declarative knowledge) and, second, as the rules they use to manipulate information and respond to familiar situations (procedural knowledge). The authors utilize this declarative/procedural distinction throughout the book to organize their discussion of the role of expertise in social judgment, in self-judgment, in the planning and executing of life tasks, in the development of intentionality, and in the process of personality change. Each of these arenas is the focus of chapters that thoroughly reviews the relevant literature, taking the declarative/ procedural distinction and questions of motivation and intention into account.

The book begins with a consideration of the historical roots of these ideas in the work of such social-cognitivists as George Kelly, Walter Mischel, Julian Rotter, and Albert Bandura. These social-cognitivists conceive of individuals as superimposing unique meanings onto their experience, formulating expectancies, constructing plans and strategies, and engaging in self-regulatory acts. The present analysis extends this thinking into the domain of social intelligence and is more explicitly concerned with the concepts of personal agency and motivation. In this sense, both the social-cognitivist position and the present perspective on social intelligence challenge the determinism of early behaviorism, much as ego psychology challenges the determinism of traditional psychoanalytic theory. The present work also brings the issue of adaptive responding into the forefront of personality by drawing attention to the potential effectiveness of the interpretations and strategies that people utilize.

Social intelligence, as the authors define it, is intimately tied to the concepts of human agency and adaptation, and more precisely, to the concept of expertise. In their chapter on social concepts and interpretive rules, the authors focus on expertise and review the literature on social categorization and judgment, making the argument that social knowledge is represented in complex, idiosyncratic, and multiply overlapping terms. Multiple (and even competing) social categories can be activated from a variety of domains simultaneously, producing a variety of affective associations. Each social category, in this model, consists of a fuzzy set of features related by family resemblances, and each has its place in a fuzzy hierarchy, in which perfect subset-superset relationships are not found. Furthermore, since any particular concept may exist in numerous contradictory domains, all concepts and hierarchies exist in tangled webs of multiple interdomain connections. Although complex, this model aptly summarizes recent empirical advances in social cognition and is convincingly described.

Within this framework, self and social information processing transpire in much the same way, that is, with fuzzy concepts in fuzzy hierarchies in tangled webs. Although people usually have more information about themselves than others, and self-relevant information is typically better organized, better articulated, and more bound up with affect, self and social knowledge representations are intimately intertwined. The literature review in this area is again excellent and guided by the distinction between declarative and procedural expertise. In their discussions of both self and social judgment, the authors also deal with a variety of expertise-based procedural shortcuts, such as schematic memory biases, schema-triggered affect, overly simple analogies, and premature categorization, while noting expertise-based flexibility in information processing as well. These discussions are illuminating and framed in an intentional/motivational context that considers the potential adaptiveness of these expertise-based procedures.

The authors' concern with motivation and adaptation is particularly evident when they examine life tasks, which they define as "the problems which a person sees himself or herself as working on and devoting energy to solving during a specified life period" (p. 4). Although the authors acknowledge that people are not likely to have conscious awareness of all of the tasks on which they are working, they suggest that it is heuristically valuable in research to allow individuals to define their central tasks for themselves. Ultimately, the life tasks an individual constructs reflect his or her motivations, and a life-task analysis makes it especially possible to ask whether the individual is succeeding at the life tasks he or she has defined, whether the tasks are suited to the person, and whether new tasks need to be constructed. Hence, questions about the adaptiveness of the individual's responses are readily accessible for study. Interestingly, the authors also suggest that because procedural knowledge is often less accessible to awareness than declarative knowledge, patterns of procedural expertise, whether in life-task pursuits or in self or social judgment, may be particularly difficult to change. This means that when procedural expertise is maladaptive, it may be particularly problematic for the individual.

Both declarative and procedural expertise, the authors argue, begin to develop in early childhood. Differences in interests and in selective experience make for a lack of order in cognitive growth and for idiosyncratic development of domain-specific expertise. This active construction of self and social knowledge begins early in life as the child selectively sharpens his or her knowledge of objects and events. With adolesence, the individual becomes progressively more able to intentionally guide his or her construals and actions, and hence becomes more socially intelligent.

Herein lies the basic dilemma of the social intelligence analysis. Is it correct to equate social intelligence with expertise? In the research literature, expertise is typically defined as the sheer amount of information possessed in a domain and its degree of internal organization. Social intelligence, however, implies something more—functionality and adaptiveness. The authors propose that expertise is adaptive because it enables individuals to readily translate their intentions into actions:

That is, to the extent that individuals have elaborate, well-integrated, relatively consensually validated and self-relevant expertise in a life-task domain, they should be able to find creative ways to pursue their goals with ease and be somewhat buffered from the impact of initial failures to enact those goals, (p. 239)

But the authors also suggest that expertise is a double-edged sword, creating a pull toward the familiar—toward retaining old routines, resisting change, and using short-cut judgment rules.

Unfortunately, most of what we know about expertise from relevant empirical work concerns the biases it can introduce in information processing. Contemporary research has only just begun to specify the conditions under which extensive well-organized knowledge structures are likely to operate adaptively in construal and action. Indeed, the authors ultimately acknowledge that the adaptiveness or maladaptiveness of social intelligence is an open question. If, however, social intelligence is to take on its full connotative meaning, it probably ought to reflect adaptive responding and more than mere expertise.

Given the gap that currently exists in the literature linking expertise to adaptation, this book is likely to serve the important function of drawing research attention to the important question of the circumstances under which expertise is, in fact, adaptive. As an example, it may be that absolute accuracy in information processing is not always adaptive for the individual (as in the "illusory glow" of optimism that most nondepressed people tend to exhibit, based on their positively valenced self-expertise). A more precise examination of the potential trade-off between accuracy and adaptiveness would therefore seem warranted. The authors allude to this issue, but it deserves further theoretical and empirical consideration.

Beyond this, the very definition of adaptiveness as it applies to social intelligence merits further exploration. For example, if the adaptiveness of social intelligence is reduced simply to effective self-regulation, the problem arises that even a sociopathic response, if well-executed, might be considered adaptive. An attempt to include a moral or ethical dimension in the assessment of the adaptiveness of social intelligence would therefore seem to be required. Yet this obviously would be a tremendous challenge for it would need to involve determining an individual's capacity to construe and act effectively without treading too heavily on the intentions and integrity of others. This may be too much to ask, given that the authors already encourage precise attention to both the person and the situation when determining social intelligence, because the "solutions which are intelligent for one person in one context may well be unwise for another person facing an ostensibly similar problem with a different set of goals in mind" (p. 64). Nonetheless, further work is needed to carve out the deeper meaning of the social intelligence construct as it pertains to adaptiveness in human construal and action in a distinctly social and interdependent world. In the present volume, the authors clearly pave the way for such future work, but they also show us that we may have a long way to go.

Overall, the authors take on an ambitious task and do an exceptional job with it by presenting a cogent analysis that does not oversimplify the structures and processes addressed. In fact, some readers may find themselves longing for the good old days when there were just a few underlying dimensions of personality to which all of the complexities and idio-syncracies the authors discuss could be reduced. From this reviewer's point of view, however, the authors have reached into complex territory with a provocative theoretical framework and with rigor, balance, and intellectual honesty. As a result, this work constitutes a valuable piece of scholarship that is likely to contribute substantially to the thinking of theoreticians and researchers in the field.

In conclusion, the central strength of this book resides with its presentation of a model of human construal, planning, and action that focuses on motivation and adaptiveness. This is important because it reminds us to consider people's capacity to pursue uniquely meaningful projects in a life filled with situations and predicaments that they have, in part, choreographed to further their own interests. The authors present a convincing case on this point that is likely to redirect work in personality-social psychology toward a more thorough consideration of motivation and adaptation in people's cognitions, affects, and actions. Oddly, because little empirical work has explored this relatively uncharted territory, much of the literature reviewed in the book is, in a sense, unable to speak directly to the book's overarching purpose. This is somewhat disconcerting, but it also serves to highlight the very point the authors most wish to make: Research focusing on motivation and adaptation in personality-social psychology is important and sorely needed. The contribution of this work therefore lies in providing a new slant on our understanding of self-judgment, social judgment, and the pursuit of life tasks, and in paving the way for a more concerted empirical effort to understand the role of motivation and adaptation in human construal and action-quite an accomplishment!.


Nancy Cantor, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, is recipient of the American Psychological Association's Early Career Award. She is coeditor, with J. F. Kihlstrom, of Personality, Cognition, and Social Interaction,

John F. Kihlstrom, professor of psychology at the University of Arizona, is recipient of the American Psychological Association's Early Career Award. He contributed the chapter "Conscious, Subconscious, Unconscious: A Cognitive Perspective" to K. Bowers and D. Meichenbaum (Eds.) The Unconscious Reconsidered.

Susan M. Andersen, associate professor of psychology at New York University, contributed the chapter "The Role of Cultural Assumptions in Self-Concept Development" to K. Yardley and T. Honess (Eds.) Self and Identity: Psychosocial Perspectives.


PsycCRITIQUES
0010-7549
Previously published in Contemporary Psychology: A Journal of Reviews, November 1988, Vol. 33, No. 11, 979–980
© 1988, American Psychological Association