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Steimer & Mata (2016)

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22 Comments to “Steimer & Mata (2016)”
  1. Sergiu Barcaci says:

    Steimer and Mata’s study on implicit theories of personality shed some light on how motivation and also perception work in regard to modifying our
    traits, and it even answered some of the questions/issues that I gathered while reading. For example, study 2 and 5A build upon each other and illustrate that
    people identify their weaknesses, view them as malleable, and expect them to change for the better in the future. But is this an expectation that change will
    happen simply because it’s an undesirable trait and no effort will be put in to actually change on their part? The opposite goes for strengths where people
    determined that their strengths are more static and will last in the future, but like they mention, wouldn’t this lead to stagnation of the strengths?
    While peoples view may be that their weaknesses are malleable and strengths are stable, effort still needs to be maintained for both aspects in order for change/maintenance to occur. As they say, results do show that people are more willing to work on traits they view as malleable, but they still have to actually maintain effort to change, not just assume change will happen simply because it’s an undesirable trait. From a therapeutic standpoint, I can see this as being a very good way of potentially treating disorders such as hoarding.
    The hoarder may believe that their habits are a strong suit and thus won’t change (or they’ll just say that’s who I am) but if they can be swayed that their habits are a weakness/detriment, they’d be more willing to believe that they’re malleable and thus be willing to change (but again, have to put in the effort and maintain change- they can’t just expect future improvement). The end-of-history illusion is interesting in this regard and it’s strange how it seems to correlate more to strengths than to weaknesses instead of both- if you feel that all the growth and changes led up to what you are now and you’ll hardly change, that should apply to both pos and neg traits. However, expecting future improvement for weaknesses is definitely a lot better and easier to work with than with someone who’s solidified in their behavior and refuses to change.

    • Shira Russell-Giller says:

      Hi Segiu, I really like your extension of the implicit malleability theory to potential therapy for hoarders. An important step in cognitive behavioral therapy is guiding the client to recognize distorted thought processes, which is essentially what you were describing regarding swaying the hoarder to see that their habits are a weakness. Only once this initial step of recognizing distorted thoughts (or non beneficial habits) is reached can the client then be motivated to change. Another way that an individual can recognize their behaviors/traits as weaknesses outside the context of therapy is through ‘wake-up calls.’ For example, if a hypertensive patient is forgetful to take their medication, and then has a minor heart attack, that may actually serve as a notification to the individual that their forgetfulness is not serving them, and they need to change their behavior.

      • Dakota Egglefield says:

        Hi Sergiu,

        I also appreciated your translational approach for a potential type of therapy to target cognitive distortions. Shira’s comment as well extends on thoughts I had when reading the article. I could not stop thinking about depression, since depressed patients may show the opposite pattern than presented in the article with presumably healthy participants – viewing their strengths are unstable/malleable and weaknesses as stable, due to their tendency to attribute negative aspects of themselves to internal and stable causes. It seems that if the authors had used any type of clinical population, they may have found different or conflicting patterns and results.

    • Shanna Razak says:

      I think the article brought up a useful point. Weaknesses are something we are constantly focused on in that it constantly bothers us. However I believe with some weaknesses we merge them as part of our permenent characteristics to stop the constant rerun of thoughts.Reaching this stage weakenesses become less malleable.

  2. Sara Babad says:

    Hi Sergiu,

    I appreciate the point you highlight – that people think their weaknesses are malleable and their strengths are stable. I think this comes up a lot in treatment. Often, individuals come to therapy wanting to change something but it is not always what the therapist perceives as the most distressing/impairing aspect of the person’s life. I think the distinction between what the individual views as a strength vs weakness can shed light on this dynamic. The patient’s maladaptive behaviors likely served some purpose in protecting the individual from real or perceived harm. The individual may therefore think that their maladaptive behaviors are actually a strength. Then, when the individual comes to treatment, they are reluctant to change that very thing that has helped them. For example, if someone grew up in an abusive home and withdrew to protect himself from the environment, this may have been adaptive at that point. Years later the person may still be withdrawing but this is no longer adaptive. He might seek treatment but he is likely to perceive his withdrawal as a strength because it has served him well in the past. He may therefore find it difficult to change because he implicitly thinks this feature of himself is stable. And then, just like Shira mentioned, one of the initial goals of treatment would be to help him realize the distortions or maladpativeness (is that a word?) of his behaviors. Only then would he be able to change it…

    • Victoria Fairchild says:

      I think you all make interesting points about how the perceived stability of certain traits could be interesting to look at clinically, as well as how these traits that may actually be weaknesses, or how vestiges of a previously useful coping mechanism may be perceived as an intrinsically stable strength. While reading I thought a lot about how this research would have been used in the the field of substance abuse and especially in terms of self-deception and the utilitarian value of certain “weaknesses” or “strengths” in terms of protecting one’s self concept and giving one hope for change. I think it would be interesting to be able to use these measures of strength/weakness stability clinically, especially in a setting where certain weaknesses such as impulsivity or risk-taking have to be perceived as temporary or changeable in order to begin treatment.

  3. Katherine Chang says:

    Firstly, I have to say I love this article. Not only did I enjoy reading it in general but I found myself being really impressed by how extensive and thoughtful the authors were in designing the experiment. I do have some reservation thoughts, mainly regarding the payment amount and possibly recruitment, but overall, wow. Per usual, I found the results somewhat intuitive to understanding human behavior but the way the authors went about proving the results and even address causality was very impressive and not to mention, convincing.

    I’d like to consider the question the authors posed at the end of the discussion as throughout reading, I found myself asking the same and the possible downside of self-serving regulation. “Are people less willing to work on traits that they consider to be their strengths rather than their weaknesses?” The authors posit that if people believe their strengths are stable, they might neglect working on them and risk stagnation or decline. To me, the article demonstrated a cognitive bias that we, as humans, may possess. Just like how people correct when made aware of weather being a heuristic for our moods, I wonder if people self-correct if they were made aware of this bias.

    On the other hand, while this article was very convincing and extensive regarding motivation and its effect on implicit theories, it doesn’t necessarily speak to the results of this motivation and behavior. Just because someone believe their trait to be more malleable, does that mean they will work towards steps to actually change it? I don’t necessarily think so. Addressing weaknesses can be a very difficult process (we often acknowledge in psychotherapy class that awareness and motivation to work on a problem is a necessary aspect to successful CBT) and people aren’t necessarily motivated to put in the work to make a change. The reason why I bring this up is anecdotally from my experience in pole vaulting; my coach would always remind us to put an emphasis on practicing the weaknesses in our technique. He would posit that continuing to practice our strengths is easier and may make us feel good (self-esteem) but wouldn’t actually help us in the long run. Part of me wonders if this bias could also be present and add to the mix of presenting behaviors—although people think their weakness are more malleable, they still might work on their strength traits because it’s easier.

    Other stray thoughts:
    – $0.25 or $0.40 for payment??? Seems so low but at the time, for some reason, it makes me trust the responses more
    – the authors claim motivated implicit theories even when acute threat to self-esteem wasn’t induced…but I would say that a mismatch representation of ideal vs present self and thinking about weaknesses is still a threat to self-esteem
    – it took me a second to wrap my mind around their jargon… I feel like they could’ve written this using simpler vocabulary
    – wooo Carol Dweck! Fixed vs. Growth mindset!!

    • Chen Tiferet-Dweck says:

      Hi Kathy,
      I think the payment was low because it was an online survey and it was very short. I used to complete online surveys and the payment was according to the size of the survey. One page of questions is very easy to fill it out, you dedicate about 5 minutes of your time so you will receive 25 cents for that (that is 2.00 NS! sounds better in Israeli coin).
      I also really liked this paper. I liked how the findings are in line with the attribute theory- people attribute extrnal reasons for their behavior but internal circumstance for other’s behavior. That is they are more forgiven for themselves but less for others. I need time to develop the thought.
      BTW I checked if we are related to Dr. Dweck- we are not.

      • Sunghee Kim says:

        Hi, Katherine and Chen. Thanks for your thoughts. And Yes, I found this article very interesting. I just found out very weird about the payment they made. I also used to complete online psychology surveys which were from Queens college. One of them, It was very short questionnaires, and I usually finished up within 5~6 mins but I still got paid $15 for the completion of the survey. And I saw that this study was done just a few years ago, I just found that was very odd even though it was an only online survey. Hence, because it was so low of payment, I just thoughts responses would not be very convincing. Overall, the study itself was very fascinating how people would like to work more on weaknesses but not on their strengths.

    • Crystal Quinn says:

      I also found these findings intuitive, they reminded of personality research in which people are more likely to judge negative behaviors in others as due to inherent traits, but our own reactions as being based on the situation. I think it is positive that we are more likely to think that our negative traits can improve over time- this can act as a motivator for SOME people (I agree that not everyone will be motivated). You bring up a great point that the results could indicate that we are less likely to work on our perceived strengths.

    • Scott Ewing says:

      Sounds like this was conducted through something like Amazon’s MTurk. If a researcher has hypotheses that can be addressed through questionnaires in the general public, they can upload their study there and get LOTS of responses in a very short amount of time (sometimes hundreds or thousands of people). The pay-per-study is usually pretty low (cents), but there are people that will just do a bunch of em; it starts to add up. For the researcher, the question ends up being, ‘who are these people?’ In other words, are these people an accurate cross-section of the population, or does it take a specific ‘type’ of person to sit down and fill out surveys all day?

  4. Chen Tiferet-Dweck says:

    My main concern about this study is that they used a convenience sample in which the subjects participated through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. This sample is not representative of the general population. It is mostly, young adults who are using the Internet, especially platforms like Amazon and online surveys, and indeed the pool’s mean age was 32 with a standard deviation of 11.10. I expect the perception of malleability of personality to be influenced also by age. I assume elderly subjects will be less inclined to believe that their personality can be changed at their age. Therefore, it will be interesting to evaluate this study question with different age populations.

    What is interesting to me is the implication that we can draw from this study. Assuming that this study includes healthy normal population (it does not seem that they controlled for the participants’ mental state in their design which raises another concern), we can say that healthy positive thinking people believe that personal weaknesses can be changed. And perhaps it is gullible to believe that strengths are stable but overall I found it a healthy and a positive way of thinking. As we know, depressed persons have a negative perception of themselves. Bad things perceived as unchangeable and good things perceived as short lasting. Likewise, they will perceive a trait of weakness in themselves as unchangeable and traits of strength will be perceived as not stable or temporary. According to the finding in this study, we can provide intervention on different steps of the cognitive process of the pessimistic or depressed patient:
    We can challenge the undesirable trait and explore with the patient whether the discussed trait is really a weakness? We can challenge their motivation to change i.e. their desire for a change. We can prime their traits of strength or the desirable trait by providing assignment that will, directly and indirectly, increase their experience of that trait in themselves. We can intervene in the perception of the self and work to minimize the perceived- ideal self-discrepancy. I feel that the authors did a fine and thorough work evaluating the different factors that can affect the way one will perceive his/her own weaknesses and strengths and providing further support and tools for clinical psychotherapy interventions.

    • Ulzhan Yeshengazina says:

      Hi Chen,

      Thank you for your comment. I also had similar concerns about the age of the participants and the lack of generalizability. It is possible that this sample does not include a low SES population and as you mentioned “people’s mental state.” As we learned from the previous classes C, A increases and N decreases with age (Bleidorn et al., 2013). These traits are somewhat correlated with positive emotions (in the case of C&A) and with negative emotions (N). These changes happen due to stability in life, having family or job. Is it possible that people tend to think to change to better due to new motivations (cause by keeping their job, get a promotion, be a better parent/spouse)? These are external motivations that can be motivating why people think that their weaknesses are malleable.

  5. victoria fairchild says:

    I really enjoyed this article, as I feel it explored a very interesting human tendency. In some respects, I felt this article explored that nature of self-deception. We all want to believe that our positive traits and character strengths are permanent and intrinsic, and that our weaknesses are temporary and can be lessened. I did think that the author’s final point regarding whether people are less willing to work on traits they consider strengths than weaknesses was an interesting one, but not necessarily one I agree with. I think that the reason our weaknesses exist is because most people don’t want to acknowledge them, and even fewer likely take steps to truly rid themselves of character flaws unless it genuinely effects their functioning. That said, cultivating a strength such as kindness or loyalty, is not uncomfortable, it bolsters our good opinion of ourselves and helps us to balance and tolerate our weaknesses. I think that these strengths may actually be more stable because we want to continue to cultivate them.
    I do think that given this knowledge, the article could have some interesting implications as far as how it might be utilized in real life. We see this idea mirrored in all sorts of dysfunctional behavior, from weight gain to drug use. Most people believe that the extra five pounds they put on is not only temporary, but that they will lose an extra 10 pounds (once they get around to it). That being said, how do we use this knowledge of believing weaknesses to be temporary and our certainty toward things improving in the future? Are those who believe that weakness is temporary more likely to actively plan to take steps to change? Using this type of questionnaire might be a good way to determine who is more likely to stick to a treatment plan, a work out etc… which could be clinically very useful.

    • Sergiu Barcaci says:

      Hi Victoria, that type of questionnaire would definitely be a great preliminary test to gauge how to treat a patient. I think patients that see their weaknesses as temporary are the ones that are most likely to follow and adhere to the initial treatment plans. The other patients would need some cognitive restructuring beforehand in order for treatment plans and their outlook on improving strengths/diminishing weaknesses to be made malleable.

    • Sophie Schiff says:

      Hi Victoria – I agree with you that when we focus on cultivating our strengths, we feel better about ourselves. The authors’ conclusion regarding this point made me wonder about depressed individuals who tend to focus on the negative, and on their weaknesses. Do depressed individuals feel that their weaknesses are permanent and strengths are temporary? I think this viewpoint is in line with research explaining that depression is associated with negative cognitive distortions about the self. It is interesting to explore this idea in the context of a clinical population and I agree that a measure that evaluates how a person considers the malleability of their strengths and weakness would be of great clinical utility.

      • Katherine Chang says:

        I’m really excited that people are looking at the clinical applications of this research and considering what the implication are for people that may be depressed. For people that are depressed, however, do they think that their strengths are temporary or do they complete disregard/don’t acknowledge their strengths? I wonder if the results would different if they did the same studies on a population of depressed individuals. I think that would be have some really interesting implications for therapy.

    • Gregory Rosen says:

      Hi Victoria, I thought it was interesting that you brought up self-deception. I recently read a couple of papers that might be useful to elaborate on that idea. The first is called “Robust, unconscious self-deception: Strategic and flexible” (Funkhouser & Barrett, 2016), in which they revive the mental partitioning account, in contrast to a motivationalist account. The second is called “Is there evidence of robust, unconscious self-deception? A reply to Funkhouser and Barrett” (Doody, 2016), which posits that there is insufficient evidence for robust, unconscious self-deception. Were you thinking of unconscious self-deception for this week’s article, and if so, do you think robust unconscious self-deception is possible?

    • minjung park says:

      Hi, Victoria. First of all, thank you for sharing your opinion. I also enjoyed this article. While I was reading, I realized that I am the person who thinks that my strengths see as stable and my weakness sees as malleable. From other psychology class, I learned that a cross-cultural psychologist wishes to determine if on average (i.e., in the typical country), people thought their lives in fives years would be better than their current lives, based on the idea of optimism bias. Thus, Many articles demonstrate that people have such optimistic thinking about themselves and the future, especially their weakness. So, we can say the trait might be a human’s natural condition. From those respects, this article proved well and constantly with all six studies. However, if the researchers collect and focus on demographic information, the study would be better and understandable in more detail.

  6. Ulzhan Yeshengazina says:

    I enjoyed reading the article and found it interesting how the authors illustrated the connection between perceived traits and malleability of some features when assessed as a future trait. At first, I thought about the possible respondent bias due to the desirability to believe that person will anticipate a change in negative characteristics. I think it is logical that a person needs to perceive traits to be a weakness to think that they will change in the future wishfully. However, after careful reading, all 1-6 studies demonstrated sound evidence by using methods that explained how the end-history-illusion moderated by motivation and how people tend to think that their positive traits will remain stable in the future. I found it incredible that the authors used a quantitative method to explain how people perceive their habit and what makes them think that they will change in the future. I also remembered how this evidence could help further develop new coping mechanisms by just perceiving the traits as a weakness and think positively to change these traits; this reminded me of how this could be a placebo effect (i.e., a person who believes that they can improve their wellbeing are more likely motivated to do so, positive thinking).

    Furthermore, I thought it is essential to indicate the factors that will play out in perceiving the traits as positive or negative. For example, it is plausible to assume that conscientious or agreeable people will be more likely to work towards improving their characters to a better outcome in the future. Whereas other personalities (such as narcissistic or extraverts) may not see anything wrong with possessing negative traits, in contrast, neurotic people may perceive everything about themselves negatively due to their constant anxiety. From the article, it looks like as long as we believe that traits are malleable, we are more likely motivated to change. Does this mean that anxious, neurotic people who think their traits as a constant thing will not be motivated to change?

    • Bengi says:

      Thank you for your comment, Ulzhan. I also found myself thinking that people hold individual differences that significantly shape the way they are forming self-concepts and beliefs and also the way they have desires. I found it a bit tricky to think about motivation as distinct from larger and more constant traits but only in the light of some statements that captured a smaller part of them in the form of beliefs, attitudes or behaviors. One way to strengthen this would be to incorporate some theory and assessment of personality differences and collection of some demographic information that might go beyond age.

    • Sophie Schiff says:

      Hi Ulzhan – I also think it is interesting to consider other factors that play into how people perceive the stability/malleability of their strengths and weaknesses. The article mentioned how the type of praise/criticism children receive influences how children develop these types of perceptions. I also wonder about how culture, schooling, and religion factor into an individual’s perception of these traits. It would have been interesting to take these types of variables into account in understanding variability in the malleability of strengths/weaknesses in in more detail.

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