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The Personality Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire

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About the Laboratory:site homepeople in the lablist of laboratory publicationsselected reprints
Overview of Selected Theoretical Work: personality as a scientific discipline the Systems Framework for personalitypersonal intelligence emotional intelligence ethical commentary on the personality of public figures

Psychological Measures and Procedures: scales of mood,• mood-congruent judgment,• empathy, • meta-experience of mood, • personal intelligence emotional intelligenceintellectual experience • and experimental procedures

Other Resources: links to documents, video and websites on personalityUNH Department of Psychology (New Window)

What Data Sources Exist about Personality?

An Overview of Contemporary Data in Personality Psychology

The Systems Framework for Personality Psychology (SFPP) permits a coherent and formal approach to understanding issues in the discipline of personality psychology, such as the types of data we employ in the field.

A formal system for labeling and organizing the various forms of data employed in the field was greatly needed. The last widely-used classification system for data was developed by Raymond Cattell in the mid 20th century (Cattell, 1965). A nice update of that system has been provided by Funder (2001). Much has occurred since Cattell's time, though, and even given its updates, a serious overhaul provides an opportunity to better understand where our data comes from, and to create a better terminology. For example, terms such as "paper-and-pencil tests," "objective tests," and "self-report" don't convey much meaning anymore.

The new classification system for data draws on some earlier ideas suggested by Cattell, incorporates some of the revised terminology from Funder (2001), and draws from a variety of similar sources also, to arrive at a new organization of data types (Mayer, 2004).

The New Classification

In the new system, data is first divided into two categories according to its source. The first category concerns data that has its source in systems outside of the personality system itself. That is, from observers, from institutional records, and from biological brain scans (if such are available). There are four broad classes of such external-source data.

External Source Data

(Data from Sources Surrounding the Personality System)

Institutional Data are data provided by institutional records -- e.g., marriage licenses, school transcripts.
Observer and Rating Data are data concerning a target individual, supplied by someone who knows or observes that individual.
Setting Data are data about the individual's setting -- e.g., clothes, props, location.
Biological Data are data about the individual's internal biological processes, including the body and brain.

The second category concerns data that arises from within the personality system itself. Here the data is also first divided into four areas. These areas reflect four areas of knowledge on which a person can draw.

Personal Report Data

(Data from Sources Within the Personality System)

World Data Reports by the person of his or her knowledge of the world.
Life Data Reports by the person of his or her surrounding life involvements -- what the person does, where the person lives, etc.
Self-Data Reports by the person involving judgments of him or herself.
Process Data Reports by the person of the internal conscious experience of urges, feelings, thoughts, and social plans.

These data sources can be further broken down. The rationale for this further breakdown concerns the mental processes which bring about the report. For example, some responses by people simply involve endorsing (e.g., agreeing or disagreeing) with a test item. Other kinds of responses, however, require coming up with a correct answer (e.g., meeting a criterion).

Personal Report Data

(Mental Processes Used to Respond to Questions)

Endorsement Reports -- in which a person endorses a statement about him or herself.
Convergent Reports -- in which a person provides a response calculated to converge to a correct answer (e.g., as on an achievement test).
Divergent Reports -- in which a person provides a response calculated to diverge from a conventional response (e.g., as in tests of creativity).
Thematic Reports -- in which a person provides a constructed response (often to an ambiguous or open-ended question), in which a story is told, a sentence is completed, an image is described, and so forth.

Once the above mental processes are examined, and combined with one another, it turns out that there are about 12 commonly employed personal-report types of data in personality psychology. (For the full rationale, here, it helps to check the original article.) The 12 commonly employed types of tests are:

Important Types of Data Employed in Personality Psychology (modified from Mayer, 2004, Table 1)
Attitude-report, belief report Attitude surveys, belief surveys
Criterion-report IQ, aptitude and achievement tests
Divergent-report Divergent thinking tests of creativity
Projective-report or thematic-report Inkblot based projective tests; thematic apperception tests
Life-report (life-space) data Life-space scales, biodata scales, act-frequency measures
Self-report, self-judgment Scales measuring the Big 5 and Big 3
Criterion-report (about the self) Measures of personal intelligence
Projective-report, self descriptive type Sentence completion tests beginning with "I" or "My...", personal striving questionnaires, open-ended self-descriptions
State-report Mood adjective checklists
Process-report Free-association, think aloud protocols


Funder, D. (2001). The personality puzzle. New York, NY: W. W. Norton.

Cattell, R. B. (1965). The scientific analysis of personality. Baltimore, MD: Penguin.

Mayer, J. D. (2004). A classification system for the data of personality psychology and adjoining fields. Review of General Psychology, 8, 208-219.


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