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How a Functionalist Understanding of Behavior Can Explain Trait Variation and Covariation Without the Use of Latent Factors

Wood, Dustin

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How a Functionalist Understanding of Behavior Can Explain Trait Variation and Covariation Without the Use of Latent Factors
Wood, Dustin
Hensler, Molly
Personality psychologists frequently think of latent factors (e.g., extraversion) inferred from the covariance of behavioral traits (e.g., sociability, assertiveness) as basic causes of these traits. Here, we argue that such latent factors serve no role as causes of behavior. Instead, we discuss the merits of approaches which cast motivations, abilities or affordances, and perceptions of the environment – collectively MAPs – as the functional antecedents of behavior. Although functionalist explanations of behavior have recently illustrated how a range of basic phenomena in personality psychology can be understood without invoking latent factors (e.g., Fleeson & Jolley, 2007), this work has not clearly described how such frameworks can explain the covariation of behavioral traits. Using qualitative and quantitative data, we show that any particular behavioral trait is almost certainly influenced by many distinct MAPs, and conversely, that any particular MAP almost certainly influences many distinct behavioral traits. This in turn allows for a functionalist understanding of the covariance of behavioral traits which does not necessitate any role for latent factors: covariance increases as traits increasingly share functional antecedents, and even uncorrelated traits will regularly share functional antecedents. We discuss how removing a causal role for latent factors has numerous implications for how personality research is conducted, and for our theoretical understanding of basic issues in personality psychology ranging from the nature of biological and environmental influences on behavior, to personality stability and the potential for personality change.
personality traits
latent factors
social cognition
functional approach
Big Five
2012-02-01T21:42:50Z (accessioned)
2012-02-01T21:42:50Z (available)
2011 (issued)
This manuscript represents a document that was submitted to Psychological Review in March of 2011. The manuscript here is unchanged from the submitted document, with the exception of an extended author note which acknowledges the many people who helped contribute to this version of the document. Ultimately, the views represented in this manuscript are solely the views of the authors at the time of submission in March 2011. This document is currently under revision, and consequently comments and reactions are welcomed and can be emailed to the first author. Comments and suggestions leading to improvements to the final manuscript will be fully acknowledged in the final manuscript. (citation)
This document should be considered as an "informally published or self-archived work" (APA Style Manual, #61, p. 212), and this version of the manuscript will be preserved at this address following the publication of the modified final manuscript. Consequently, this document at this address should be referenced in this format (with the title italicized): (citation)
Wood, D., & Hensler, M. (2011). How a functionalist understanding of behavior can explain trait variation and covariation without the use of latent factors. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10339/36461. (citation)
http://hdl.handle.net/10339/36461 (uri)
Psychological Review

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