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Steimer & Mata (2016)

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29 Comments to “Steimer & Mata (2016)”
  1. Carly Tocco says:

    After reading the article about malleability of traits, I instantly starting to think of Freudian defense mechanisms and the fundamental attribution error research. This study showed that people believe their weaknesses or “negative” traits are more easily changed than their positive ones, especially when there is a threat to a person’s self-concept. Because the research in the 6 studies described demonstrated that indeed individuals believe their bad traits are more likely to change, I started to think of the way this helps protect our ego. While this isn’t quite denial, the fact that people believe their bad traits can change, but their desirable traits are stable is somewhat lacking in term of logic. To me, it is either we believe traits are stable or they are changing. With this said, I do see some implications of denial as a defense to protect oneself from facing that they may have “negative traits” they are stuck with. Similarly, these findings brought to mind the fundamental attribution error research. When something goes wrong with ourselves, we blame external cues. When something goes wrong for someone else, we are quicker to blame it on their internal factors. In line with this work, the research presented by Steimer and Mata shows that again, we are harder on others than ourselves. Overall, I think this study was methodologically strong and manipulation occurred at varying places in order to ensure the results they presented were legitimate. The only problem I had with the paper was their determining being “reserved and quiet” as a negative trait. To me, this is highly subjective and could be considered a positive trait. Likewise, I am not certain that being “conventional” is negative either. I can see being too unconventional as a negative as well.

    • Aditya Kulkarni says:

      Hey Carly,

      I enjoyed your comment’s Freudian-spin one the ego and its role in motivation-laden effect on personality. I too agree, that it is a weird logic that one would appraise traits as changing in some contexts and stable in others, given that traits themselves are inherently stable; else they are states. The subjectivity for the traits for the authors is dealt with by appraising others, but I still feel that in the context of theory of mind being a real thing, then why can’t traits also be malleable in a similar fashion for others? Likewise, in certain contexts, what is a weakness can be a strength and vice-versa; reserved and quiet helps at the library but is a detriment at the dinner party. Perhaps Mischel was right all along; traits are inherently problematic as they are situationally dependent, and given that motivation is a situation-dependent factor, it too holds that strengths and weaknesses too are situationally dependent.

      • Carly Tocco says:

        I love your addition of Mischel. While I didn’t originally think of his theory when reading this paper, the example you provided of reserved being advantageous in one realm, but being a weakness in another is spot on. This left me wondering if participants would change the level of malleability even more IF they were given situationally dependent context.

    • Gabriella Robinson says:

      Great post Carly. Previous to your post I hadn’t questioned when they said they validated trait-valence categorization and coding of strengths and weaknesses. Once they presented the data that participants wanted to have more of what the experimenters considered to be a positive trait, and less of what the experimenters considered to be a negative trait; that coupled with coding of strengths and weaknesses: smaller discrepancies for current to ideal self for strengths compared to weaknesses. After reading those points I just glanced at the table and thought it supported. But now that I have seen your post I think you are right there is subjectivity, however I would only agree on the “Reserved, quiet” the others seem to be in line with traits that we would regard as weaknesses/negative traits in terms of evolutionary survival. Even in that case an argument can be made for and against reserved, quiet being evolutionarily advantageous. And despite this subjectivity, somehow experimenters and participants were in agreement on the categorization of the traits.

    • Katie Dana says:

      I had similar thoughts, Carly. Reading this made me think of discussions we had in Dr. Sneed’s class. It does seem protective that we view our “negative” traits as malleable and our “positive” traits as innate aspects of our identities. I could imagine this theory being more flushed out through the lens of Freudian defenses by a more psychoanalytically oriented author.

    • drcb says:

      The authors manipulated the tone of a trait in Study 4 – tweaking the trait of intuitive thinking as being either a positive or negative.

  2. Chalana Martin says:

    After reading the article, this is what I got from it. People always strive to improve their future personalities by finding solutions to their weaknesses. Hence, most individuals focus on their strengths and learn from their weaknesses to become better than they were in the past. Steimer and Mata (2016) analyzed six studies and established that people always aim to overcome their weaknesses to become better than their past. Theoretically, personality malleability enables people to view their weaknesses as more malleable than their strengths. Simply put, people are always intrinsically motivated to solve their weaknesses while focusing on their strengths to achieve better results. On a personal account, the intrinsic motivation makes people to view themselves as better in the future regardless of their weaknesses since they view their weaknesses as something which is temporary and will be solved soon.
    Human beings are created in a way that they always strive to be better each day. They learn from their mistakes and work hard to ensure that their weaknesses do not bring them down. This urge to improve continuously is intrinsically motivated to avoid dwelling on their weaknesses. In this article, it is explained that human beings only hold on to their strengths while crafting ways of solving some impending weaknesses that might hinder them from achieving the expected results. This is always based on a personal conviction and perception. They do not have no desire to become better based on the perception from others. For example, most successful people in the world are always working hard to become better than what they achieved yesterday. Critically, the theoretical conclusion by Steimer and Mata is valid because the strengths of a human being contribute positively to his or her life. Besides, they strive to drop their temporary weaknesses to remain positive in the society.

    • Tiara Newson says:

      I completely agree with your comment Chalana. I really liked this article a lot. I believe our weaknesses is what makes us stronger and strive to be even better. It was great to see that most people actually do believe their weaknesses can change into strengths when they work at making that transformation. It’s definitely something that comes from within the self. It would have been nice to see what views of their life and circumstances the participants have to form the views they do on implicit theory.

  3. Daniel Saldana says:

    In analyzing Steimer & Mata (2016)’s studies on implicit theories of personality, I kept trying to relate this to therapy and attempt to use the findings for conceptualization of patients. It is very interesting, albeit perhaps a bit commonsensical, that people’s implicit theories of personality are malleable. At the heart of therapy is the desire to change. If there is no motivation for change, therapy becomes very difficult. I wonder how these findings could be applied to a population whose view of self and of the world is inherently negative. Perhaps someone has MDD and has a negative schema of the world through which they experience everything. In this case, would their “end-of-history illusion” be such that they will not believe in their negative traits ameliorating (now or ever)? To clarify, would we see the reverse effect—in that their implicit theories of personality are not malleable, despite recognizing traits as undesirable. To that end, how would this then relate in the transference to the therapist? I think the therapy environment is unique because it is a unilateral relationship. Given this, would we see a stronger other versus self belief of the malleability of undesirable traits. One would presume that all therapists want to see their patients get better. In the end, I am interested how these findings hold up in therapeutic interactions. After all, how many times have we been met by patients who want to change but continue to play out the same maladaptive interpersonal dynamics time and time again? It takes great work to have patients become aware of the underlying interpersonal dynamics. I wonder if this has anything to do with the author’s discussion of undesirable traits not necessarily being seen as undesirable or as weaknesses but rather as strengths? Maybe a narcissistic person does not see their personality characteristics as weaknesses and so simply does not want to change them, leading to stagnation in therapy.

    • Emnet Gammada says:

      Great post Danny! I like how you linked this to therapy. In reading your post I was thinking specifically within Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a lot of the work is on cognitive restructuring – identifying and challenging maladaptive thoughts that your patient may have. I think the cognitive structuring work you do would be parallel to fostering a malleable perspective.

    • drcb says:

      “how many times have we been met by patients who want to change but continue to play out the same maladaptive interpersonal dynamics time and time again”

      That’s partially why I wondered whether people think their drawbacks will simply, magically go away…eventually. Working to change oneself is effortful.

  4. Melissa Henao says:

    While reading this article I found myself kind of smirking at the results of the 6 different methods. I actually liked this study and felt that it is accurate in portraying how people see their desirable and undesirable traits. Reading through the article, I thought of myself and how I see my desirable and undesirable traits. I do think people take pride in their desirable traits and want all the credit for their strengths. Why would we give credit to external factors when it comes to describing our desirable traits? What I also found interesting was that people are able to accept they want to change to their undesirable traits or think they will go away. This made me wonder if this is something the participants were just saying because they were part of a study and want to make themselves look good. From what we’ve learned in class so far, personality is pretty stable so I wonder if our undesirable traits can actually be changed? When I think about my undesirable traits, I don’t really see them going away permanently. The only thing I can see really changing in regard to the undesirable traits may be just how I actually carry them out or portray them. In regards to Study2, I also thought about how people view other people’s negative traits. When looking at this idea, it kind of contradicts some of the general other results. When looking at other people’s negative traits, I normally see it as that’s just the way they are and there really is no changing that. So it is ironic to see how hopeful we are or can be when it comes to looking at our weaknesses versus other people’s weaknesses.
    I did think that it was nice that the participants were aware of their “negative” traits and acknowledged that they want to be a better person. It kind of speaks for a lot people where we do have that motivation to be the best version of ourselves by “working” on our negative traits.

  5. Emnet Gammada says:

    I enjoyed reading this article examining implicit theories (i.e. mindsets) and the different assumptions that people construct on the malleability of attributes. The authors state that whether an individual believes that human qualities are fixed or malleable has been shown to have consequences on several crucial aspects of human functioning. One aspect that resonated with me was achievement and achievement gaps in students. During my first year of graduate school I took a “Teaching of Psychology” course at the Graduate Center. In the course there was a lot of emphasis on the work of Dr. Carol Dweck (cited throughout this article). Dr. Dweck is a pioneering researcher in the field of motivation and has contributed to our understanding of how to foster success in teaching. She highlights that instructors have the obligation to foster a growth mindset in their classroom to create a less stressful and more successful outcome for their students. It is suggested that instructors should assess the mindset of their students at the very beginning of their course to examine how much control they feel they have over their mastery of the course material. As stated in the article, people’s beliefs about the malleability of intelligence can play an important part in making more efforts and trying out new strategies in challenging situations in order to develop their intelligence. Thus, it is paramount for instructors to establish a growth mindset in which students believe they can change their achievement/intelligence. By doing this the instructor can rapidly challenge any “incapacity” a student may feel, and cultivate growth. Fostering a classroom environment that demonstrates that effort and difficulty are part of the learning process, and mastery is a possibility. Thus, students are taught that their achievement can be development through effort, and persistence.

    • Susie McHugh says:

      Emnet, interesting spin on this – I like how you brought real-world applicability to the discussion. It seems as though the authors perhaps could have introduced some discussion on applications of findings to real-world circumstances, like learning, or therapy, into their conclusions. I.e., what can we do with these findings?

    • Hande says:

      Hi Emnet,
      I loved your point about Dr. Dweck as I’m also familiar with her research but didn’t think of her when I read this article. So, thank you and it’s great that you brought her into this discussion 🙂 When I get to Intelligence & Education on my developmental class, the section of fixed vs growth mindset always creates a good discussion and you see on more time in general even if we are not high on implicit motivation, we prefer to be implicitly motivated and optimistic when it comes to our perceived weaknesses. Additionally, as Carly mentioned on her post, I had reservations in regards to negative & positive traits. Being reserved or quiet as well as being conventional are open to interpretation depending on the individual.

  6. Tiara Newson says:

    I really enjoyed Steimer and Mata’s article on Motivated Implicit theories a lot. The topic was so meaningful and useful within the field of personality psychology. It focuses on the belief that when we put in the hard work, our weaknesses can become strengths and that’s what malleability within implicit theories is all about. If someone believes that personality attributions aren’t necessarily completely fixed, but can be changed from one thing to another, their implicit theory is defined by the incremental theory. The researchers inform us that those who agree with incremental theory, believe “human attributes are malleable and can develop through effort and learning”. Others take a different stance, believing “human attributes, such as intelligence and personality are inborn fixed, and stable”, this is the entity theory.

    Steimer and Mata’s article found that people agree more with incremental theory, but in reference to weaknesses. I found these results to be amazing. Most people believe their strengths will remain high but their weaknesses have the opportunity to become strengths. That’s such an optimistic outlook on life that more people have than don’t, according to this article. It also falls into the field of positive psychology, which is one of my favorite departments within psychology. Not only was the topic very interesting, and the study found awesome results, the studies were well organized and sought to not only constantly develop more information about implicit theory, but also aimed to validate their prior findings by repeating measures done within the next one.

    As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t find much to criticize for this article, but did find things I would have liked to see, such as the participants’ actual opinions of malleability in implicit theory, through the use of short answers and other measures. We don’t really know why the participants view personality in the aspect that they do. Like what makes someone develop such beliefs. I would have liked to have seen more about their views on personality remaining stable or interchangeable. There was also some confusion I first developed with trying to understand exactly what the authors meant by “implicit theory”, I did not know it referred was the way people view human attributes until I looked it up. So, I wish they did better at making sure we understood this, because its way to important within the study for someone to lack clarity on this. Regardless, this article did a very nice job at supporting its hypotheses, very thorough and impactful.

    • Ashley Olivera says:

      Very well put Tiara! I can understand why most individuals would agree with incremental theory as opposed to entity theory. It’s in our nature to attempt to develop and become our best sense of self in adapting and turning weaknesses into strengths. However, I’m not entirely convinced that ones’ strengths will remain constant over time. As time progresses, we too change along with it. It can only make sense that our strengths can also be changed and perhaps turned into weaknesses as well. This can be due to age or even eventful or traumatic experiences that can alter personalities/human attributes. The point is, I think regardless whether a specific trait is a strength or a weakness, anything can be malleable and changed with effort and hard work. There is always room for improvement.

    • Melissa Chavez says:

      Great post Tiara,

      I found myself wondering and fascinated with why people assumed their strengths would continue to be high. For example, I’m told I’m very patient and a great listener. And as much as I want to believe that this trait of mine will continue to be high–I can’t help but think maybe those traits haven’t really been that challenged. At one point I do believe whether its our strengths or weakness, we do “mess” up. So I wonder what would happen if one day our highest trait in strength fails, does it affect how we view our personality–or does it have to be constant for us to revaluate what our strengths and weakness really are.

  7. Aditya Kulkarni says:

    For this week, I’ve chosen to reflect on the Steimer & Mata (2016) article, “Motivated Implicit Theories of Personality: My Weaknesses Will Go Away, but My Strengths Are Here to Stay.” From the first study onwards, the authors address the primary complaint about attribution of motivation to an implicit theory of personality, which is that the differences they observe between individuals’ malleability for strengths and weaknesses (the latter being more malleable than the former) could have stemmed, quite simply as an artifact of choice of words for strengths and weaknesses, no matter the motivation; i.e. it is just their individual choice of word for strength and weakness, not any actual self-interest in evaluating the word that is driving this effect. To address this confound the authors forward that if participants do not demonstrate this difference in malleability to the other then it is evident that motivation drives this effect. This operationalization of motivation is rather specific, given that motivation here is purely egotistical—there is no room for the other in the equation of drive—odd, particularly in light of theory of mind as a benchmark of a “healthy” personality and prosocial function in the clinical world. This conceptualization is also quite counter to my background as a former animal researcher; perseverance, resilience, and shrewdness (strengths) and cautiousness, low exploration, and hypersensitivity (weakenesses) are often all bolstered in various ways in the context of protecting kin, with studies of previously exploratory rats, turned-mothers building nests for their pups in the corners of an open field used as a measure of how motivated the animal is; in other words, the subject’s strengths would be more malleable in this case as the need to be anxious turns from weakness to a stable strength rather freely as this life event passes, while perseverance goes up as well. To be careful of course, these comments are not to anthropomorphize their behavior or to even suggest that a rat is actively rating their own behavior in terms of these constructs; but it is of note that the line for a subject between strength and weakness is not so black-and-white and, in Mischel-fashion, may be situationally-dependent. In this context, the fact that participants are self-rating theirs and others behavior may not externalize well to real world actions, given that motivation generally requires some impetus, or at the very least a sense of urgency. The self-enhancement aspect of motivation here, seems rather a measure of self-interest, and a capitalistic notion of motivation, rather than a socialist one (couldn’t avoid the economic descriptions, sorry).

    • Safa Shehab says:

      Aditya, following from your comment about a strength or weakness not necessarily being considered as such in different circumstances, I did notice that in this study the authors missed an opportunity to study how the same “trait” can be manipulated to be seen as a strength or a weakness. Specifically, instead of priming for kindness or unkindness as self-concept, I thought it would have been more interesting to suggest kindness in 2 situations: one that was desirable to the person (e.g. person was kind and got rewarded for it) and a second that was undesirable (was kind and go stabbed in the back) – to see if the same, mostly desirable, trait would have been more likely to be perceived as malleable if it was associated with a negative outcome.

  8. Safa Shehab says:

    This study reminded me of the social psychology concepts of the self-serving bias and Fundamental Attribution Error (or attribution theory more broadly). According to this theory, individuals are inclined to attribute their shortcomings or negative behaviors to external factors (or the situation) and their successes to internal factors (or their positive traits and strengths). This may have implications for the findings of the current study, whereby people may be motivated to change – or think they can change – their negative traits because they believe these traits to be affected most by the situation, and therefore are more malleable to change with time, circumstances, or situations, whereas positive traits are attributed to internal causes and therefore may be believed to be more impervious to change. On the other hand, self-serving bias is a person’s belief that they have more positive characteristics. Although the authors do state that their results show that individuals are motivated to see themselves in a positive light and tend to believe that their positive traits are less malleable, they do not attempt to explain these findings in relation to self-serving bias in particular. I found it surprising that the authors do not reference these two classic theories. Also, the authors conclude that people have implicit theories about the malleability of strengths versus weakness, but do not discuss these findings in light of other studies about what traits (positive and negative) actually change (or improve) or remain stable, to provide some insight into whether these implicit theories that people hold are based on reality. For example, we know that neuroticism, a trait mostly considered to be negative, decrease across the lifespan. It is possible that people have these implicit theories not because they desire to keep their strengths and get rid of their weaknesses, but also because they have learned (through experience) that negative characteristics are more likely to decline.

    • Caroline Nester says:

      Safa, I really enjoyed reading your reflection on this article. I found it interesting what you brought up about neuroticism and how people may have learned “that negative characteristics are more likely to decline” as an explanation for this view that negative traits are more malleable. I am also just curious about how the personality trait of neuroticism (and other big five traits as well for that matter) are played out in attribution theory. It seems to me that more neurotic people might be less inclined to think that they can change their negative traits….

    • Lexi Pritchett says:

      Safa you make some really important points and would have been a good reviewer for this paper since you offered some good ways to extend the discussion that reference previous work and theories. Explaining the lifetime decline in neuroticism feels a little like a “chicken or the egg” situation. Have people learned that negative traits are more likely to naturally decline so they hold the view that these traits are more malleable? Or do they believe negative traits are more malleable before having evidence that this is true, and more actively work towards changing them (thus creating somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy)?

  9. Lexi Pritchett says:

    I like the implications of this research for therapy. Particularly the finding that when a participant was led to believe a trait was undesirable, they perceived it as more malleable. This implies that the difficulty in therapy is not convincing a patient that a trait can be changed, but rather focusing energy on changing the perceived valence of a maladaptive trait from positive to negative. Additionally, working to shift a patient’s general mindset from an entity to incremental view of human attributes seems like it would be incredibly helpful. I think study 2’s finding was interesting that people held similar implicit theories of others’ strengths and weaknesses. This is important when one’s difficulties are more interpersonal, and it would be useful to work on not just viewing their own weaknesses as malleable but also viewing others’ weaknesses in a similar vein. The current research implies that this may be a more naturally occurring mindset, which in theory would make this work with patients easier. The article mentioned “mind-set training programs” and I might want to look into what those entail.

    I was also particularly interested in the discussion about how the praise or criticism that children receive affects the development of their implicit theories. This is commonly mentioned in child development textbooks but I don’t think process praise had quite caught on with parents (how often do you hear a parent saying “oh you worked so hard” vs. “you’re so smart”). I think the studies conducted by Steimer and Mata were very well done, but a neat extension could maybe be a survey of the type of praise and criticism used by the participants’ parents and how that potentially influenced the results obtained. I would be interested to know whether individuals whose parents gave more process praise and criticism might view even their positive traits as more malleable.

    Some final questions I had while reading; I’d like to know whether a person in the study was actively doing anything to try to change their weaknesses. For instance a question asking if they were or had ever received therapy could have added useful information. Are the participants seeking out new experiences or pushing themselves to act or think differently? I also wondered if the effects observed varied meaningfully across the TIPI traits. For instance the desire to change one’s anxiety and disorganization seems to be greater in this sample than the desire to change other negative traits like quietness or being critical. These differences may be really important as some seem to be perceived as more malleable than others. Lastly I wonder how age would influence the findings and whether individuals would demonstrate more stable views of traits as they approach older ages.

    • Daniel Saldana says:

      Lexi, you pose an interesting question. I had not thought about whether these participants may have been actively engaged in therapy and thus potentially actively reworking the manner in which they perceive their characteristics. I think it is definitely a potential confound, given that those in therapy might view their traits and others’ traits as more malleable. It may also be difficult given the manner in which they collected their data.

    • Karen Abraham says:

      Lexi, I appreciate you translating this into a clinical perspective, as I was thinking about that as well. I was also wondering about this in the context of “depressive realism,” and where it might be more difficult for people with depressive disorders to see their negative attributes as malleable. I would love to read a follow up study that may have looked at personality traits that might capture more depressive orientations like neuroticism and it’s relationship to the phenomenon studied in this article. The decline in neuroticism over the lifespan might counteract the influence you speak to in your question about people viewing traits as more stable as they approach older ages.

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