Your personal constructs serve as both frames and cages. They can provide some predictable paths through life's complexities, but they can also lock you into a rigid way of thinking about yourself and others.
One of the well-documented findings in the study of attributions is that we are more likely to ascribe traits to others, whereas we explain our own actions according to the situations we are in.
The way you construe others has consequences for your well-being. Generally speaking, the more numerous the lenses or frames through which you can make sense of the world, the more adaptive it is.
Although we might believe that our impressions of others are cool, rational readings of the objects of our construal, personal constructs are frequently hot, emotional expressions of something far deeper.
Those who have more constructs available for anticipating events or the challenges of changed environments are less at risk for experiencing anxiety.
Hostility, from a personal construct perspective, is the attempt to extort validation for a personal construct you already suspect has been disconfirmed.
The emotional consequences of testing and revising personal constructs help us understand how strongly we might resist changing them. The more implications a construct has for other constructs, the more resistance there is to changing it.
In short, person specialists are fascinated by people and the world of social relationships. They adopt a personalistic style of knowing others. Thing specialists are intrigued by objects and the world of physical relations. They adopt a physicalistic way of construing the world, including the world of other people. Whether we are person specialists or thing specialists has implications for how we assess each other's personalities. And this holds both for lay and certified scientists. Those who are person specialists tend to look at others psychologically, in terms of their intentions and motivations. Because these are difficult, if not impossible, to discern without actually talking with people, the person specialist is more likely to engage others in conversation. But if this is not possible, because of practical reasons or the more subtle constraints of being familiar strangers, person specialists are still likely to make inferences about others. Under such circumstances of insufficient information they make unwarranted inferences and may totally misconstrue the other person. Conversely, thing specialists tend to stick with the objective data and are not inclined to infer more than meets the eye. But they misconstrue others by sticking resolutely to that which is immediately apparent, often missing the deeper significance of what they only partially see.
Free Traits: On Acting Out of Character
Why do people engage in free trait behavior? There are many reasons, but two are particularly important. We enact free traits out of professionalism and out of love.
It is important, as you reflect on your life, to ask three questions: What do you gain by pursuing personal projects and enacting free traits? What are the dynamics of acting out of character? And what might be the costs?
Restorative Niches: Reducing the Costs of Acting Out of Character
Control, Agency, and the Shape of a Life
Internal orientation has been shown across many studies to have a major positive impact on human well-being and accomplishment. Internals are more likely to resist unwanted influence, avoid undue risk, and make clear plans to achieve their valued goals. They are able to delay short-term rewards for larger, more distant rewards and are better able to deal with the stresses of everyday life as well as pay less of a cost for exposure to them.
Personal Projects: The Happiness of Pursuit
Let's assume then that your personal projects are meaningful, manageable, socially connected, and involve a higher ratio of positive emotions to negative emotions. Our research provides ample evidence that if your life is filled with such projects, you are likely to be happy and that, for you, life is good.
People experience more positive project pursuit when there is a "fit" between their personality traits and their personal projects. Happiness is greatest in those for whom there is a convergence between their traits--the kind of personal projects they are pursuing and the themes they invoke when providing life stories.