UNL researchers correlate personality traits with personal development

Posted: February 2, 2012 at 3:36 pm

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Anyone who had an imaginary friend as a kid knows what it's like to invent personalities for people who don't exist. Usually, this activity is outgrown, but University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers Peter Harms and Fred Luthans have brought it back to a number of adults. A recent study co-authored by the two shows that the way people imagine others reflects their own personalities.

To test this hypothesis, the two applied a concept known as "psychological capital," a theory developed by Luthans ten years ago and used in a number of UNL studies, to the participants.

The theory of psychological capital targets personality characteristics or concepts that make individuals more prone to positive growth and direction, especially in the workplace.

The measurement of psychological capital consists of four components: hope, efficacy, resiliency and optimism, otherwise known as "HERO."

According to Luthans, these concepts were decided upon as important characteristics to have because they contribute to theory and research and are open to development. They are separate from a person's personality in that they can continue to be developed as an individual matures, whereas other characteristics are fully developed by adulthood, Luthans said.

Psychological capital has been successfully used in military, industry and education, according to Harms, although he said this is his first involvement on a project using the concept.

Luthans also said that having the HERO concepts contributes to a strong and desirable work ethic.

"It's about the hero in us," he said.

To test each individual's measure of these concepts, Harms and Luthans presented each participant with hypothetical situations and asked them to report on how a co-worker would react to each one.

Luthans estimated that between three and four hundred people were involved, reportedly from a range of career fields.

The researchers had them imagine how a co-worker would respond to three stimuli: a new job, a supervisor wanting to speak with him or her and making a mistake at work.

"By imagining others they revealed who they are," Luthans said.

According to Luthans, these tests were a simpler form of projective personality tests, a tool used in psychology for years in which a participant sees a picture and tells a story about it.

Harms said this was an effective way of measuring the way respondents view others. He said that if asked outright, many people who view others negatively have the tendency to respond positively as a means of maintaining relationships with others. Using the hypothetical situations takes away this bias, he said, because it targets people's unconscious perceptions of others.

The situations revealed the basic level of positivity of each respondent and were about "taking positive psychology to the workplace and realizing what's positive with people, not what's negative," Luthans said.

The study will be published in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Organizational Behavior.

"I think (this study) could be very useful for developing self-awareness," Harms said.

Luthans agreed. "It's really having an impact."



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UNL researchers correlate personality traits with personal development

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February 2nd, 2012 at 3:36 pm