Lay conceptions of personality change and continuity were examined in a sample of 112 undergraduates. Participants rated their personal change over 5 years (past or future), the change they perceived to be normative over 10-year age spans between 15 and 65, their beliefs about whether personality is fixed or malleable (“lay theories”) and their beliefs about the causes of personality change and continuity. Beliefs about normative personality change generally corresponded to research evidence on adult trajectories of the Big Five factors, with some age bias, whereas recalled and anticipated personal change tended to be more positive than these norms. Participants tended to endorse environmental causes more for personality change than for continuity. Lay theories were not consistently associated with these causal beliefs, or with beliefs about personal and normative change.
Some individuals assume the fundamental character, morality, and competence of humans tends to be fixed, not malleable, called an entity theory. Other individuals, in contrast, assume the core character, morality, or competence of humans is not fixed, but can evolve over time, called an incremental theory. Several practices can be applied to cultivate the belief that humans are malleable - an assumption that affords many benefits, such as the capacity to withstand change and criticism.
Individuals who assume the character or competence of humans is malleable cope more effectively with change, embracing rather than rejecting initiatives and developments. They also consider and adopt, rather than disregard or deride, the advice and feedback they receive. Likewise, they are less inclined to disregard information that contradicts their beliefs or stereotypes. Indeed, they are more receptive to diversity, tending to respect individuals from other ethnicities, occupations, or departments.
They also are less inclined to feel like a phony, feeling they deserve the praise and recognition they receive. Finally, they also set challenging goals as well as perform more effectively than peers on complex, difficult tasks. Nevertheless, individuals who assume the character or competence of humans is malleable are occasionally perceived as erratic rather than clear.
Many researchers assume that, in general, individuals who espouse an incremental theory - and thus feel they can change fundamentally - are more receptive to feedback. They are, for example, less defensive. For example, as shown by Nussbaum and Dweck in 2008, if individuals feel that intelligence or ability is fixed - and cannot be developed over time - they are more likely to act defensively if they receive criticisms or adverse feedback. Rather than strive to improve their performance, they will deny the criticism, compare themselves to someone who is even less proficient, or display symbols, such as certificates, which demonstrate their competence. That is, because they do not feel they can improve, they must act defensively to maintain their self esteem. In contrast, if individuals feel that intelligence or ability can be cultivated through effort and training, they are less inclined to act defensively. Instead, they engage in practice and other strategies to improve their performance. They will, for example, become more likely to seek advice from experts.
Nevertheless, in some instances, individuals who adopt an incremental theory feel more anxious in response to feedback. Specifically, individuals who espouse this incremental theory assume they can change fundamentally. If these individuals had received assistance on some task, they would expect to improve. If informed their performance has not changed, this expectation is violated, and anxiety ensues.
In contrast, individuals who espouse an entity theory presuppose they cannot change fundamentally. If these individuals had received assistance on some task, they would not necessarily expect to improve. If informed their performance has not changed, this expectation is fulfilled, and anxiety dissipates. Indeed, if informed they had improved considerably, the positive feelings this information evokes coincides with a sense of anxiety as well - an anxiety that emanates from the violation of their expectations.
When individuals demonstrate a prevention focus, their principal motivation is to circumvent more immediate shortfalls or deficiencies. If they also adopt an entity theory, they might doubt whether the training could improve their performance. Any errors, thus, are both salient as well as distressing, which can damage learning.
Dweck, Chui, and Hong (1995a) also showed that implicit theories towards people were highly related to implicit theories towards intelligence and morality. In contrast, implicit theories towards people were not as highly related to implicit theories towards the world. These findings attest to the validity of these measures. These findings, together with other patterns of correlations, indicate that an acquiescence bias is unlikely to underpin agreement towards items that reflect an entity theory.
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