Personality traits: Fact or fiction? A critique of the Shweder and D'Andrade systematic distortion hypothesis

Daniel Romer*, William Revelle

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


According to R. A. Shweder and R. G. D'Andrade (1980; see also PA, Vol 64:9282), covariation in memory-based ratings of people's behavior is determined more by semantic relations between behavior categories than by actual co-occurrence. They claim therefore that the existence of personality traits is largely a fiction. Contrary to this hypothesis, it is argued that semantics are logically implicated in both the observation and recall of behavior and that support for this assumption can be found if immediate encodings of behavior are as sensitively scaled as subsequent memory-based ratings. Results of a study with 8 graduate students support this conclusion. When immediate encodings were scaled across all behavior categories, the relation between semantics and memory was completely explained by the role of semantics in the immediate encoding of behavior. However, when immediately encoded behavior was simply identified (rather than scaled), support for systematic distortion was obtained. Previous support for the systematic distortion hypothesis may therefore be attributed to the use of too simple a coding scheme for the measurement of immediate behavior. Implications for the existence of personality traits and for personality measurement are discussed. (40 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1028-1042
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 1984


  • R. G. D'Andrade's systematic distortion hypothesis
  • recall of behavior, graduate students, criticism of R. A. Shweder &
  • semantics in observation &

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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