Assistant Professor of Psychology
Greene Hall 438
Very broadly, I am interested in how personality traits shape our social experiences, and in turn, how social forces and experiences shape our personalities. I also have become increasingly interested in measurement issues related to how best to measure a range of different types of individual differences. This is a fairly incomplete list of my current interests; please feel free to talk with me in more detail about possible directions for future research projects.
The Role of Expectations and Preferences in Personality Development
A guiding assumption of my research is that personalities can change, and that people have some role in actively directing the course of their own personality development. My research suggests that there are greater social pressures to be responsible, nice, and emotionally social with age: as people progress from childhood to adulthood, possessing these characteristics becomes more important to seeing oneself as “normal” (Wood, Gosling, & Potter, 2007), and becomes more expected by one’s peers (Wood & Roberts, 2006). Both of these changes parallel the fact that people do in fact become more agreeable, conscientious, and emotionally stable over the life span.
In addition to external social expectations, the characteristics a person sees as desirable also may be an important source of their personality development. I have shown that traits that vary more in their desirability (for instance: being “liberal” is perceived as desirable to some, but as undesirable to others) tend to be more stable over time than dimensions that vary less in their desirability (for instance: being “dependable” is perceived as desirable to most everyone). This is presumably because people actively try to develop traits in the direction that they find desirable (Wood & Wortman, in press). In my current research, I am interested in exploring how and when people succeed at their efforts to direct their personality development toward the directions they find desirable.
Why Do People Act the Way They Do? Identifying the Functional Antecedents of Behavior
A person’s actions are performed to achieve certain functions: that is, individuals act to maximize their desired outcomes in the presence of limited resources and imperfect construals of reality. Understanding an individual’s behavior thus entails understanding what outcomes the individual finds desirable, what resources they can bring to bear toward attaining them, and their expectations of the consequences of their actions, what I have collectively termed the functional antecedents of behavior. In my current work, I am focusing on identifying the various functions that promote or inhibit trait-related behaviors (Wood & Hensler, 2011; Wood, Larson, & Brown, 2009). In turn, identifying the functional antecedents of behavior can provide a means for understanding trait covariance (e.g., why do sociable people also tend to be assertive people?), or potential targets for interventions related to personality trait changes.
A source of personality-related behaviors that I am particularly interested in concerns how positively individuals perceive others. People vary considerably in the extent to which they tend to describe others with positive versus negative attributes. I have found indications that how positively individuals tend to see others is associated with a wide range of different personality traits (Wood, Harms, & Vazire, 2010; Wood & Hensler, 2011), and am currently initiating a number of projects to develop both direct and more indirect measures of positive perceptions of others, to show how they are related to more objective social behaviors, and to understand their developmental and biological origins.
How to Measure Personality?
I am deeply engaged in research related to a number of topics about how best to measure individual differences in psychological tendencies, using both direct and indirect methods.
Measuring personality directly: Despite the long tradition in personality psychology of measuring a small number of broad personality traits like extraversion with a large number of items, I have recently argued that there are a number of advantages to what I have termed comprehensive personality assessment strategies, where a wide range of different personality traits are measured through single items (Wood, Nye, & Saucier, 2010). The most important advantage is that it is possible to get a much more nuanced and fine-grained understanding of how personality traits are related to the phenomena of interest than if analyses are only done at the level of the Big Five. I have used this measurement technique to shed new light on a number of extremely basic phenomena in personality psychology, such as identifying which personality dimensions are most and least stable over time (Wood & Wortman, in press), which traits are most associated with perceptions of being similar to someone else (Wortman, Wood, Furr, & Fanciullo, 2011), and how personality is associated with variables such as gender and well-being (Wood, Nye, & Saucier, 2010), perceptions of being ‘normal’ (Wood, Gosling, & Potter, 2007), and being liked by others (Wortman & Wood, 2011).
Measuring personality indirectly. Measuring personality through self-reports is fine if you trust people to have some insight into their own characteristics. However, we can infer much about the individual’s characteristics by how they describe others. I have shown how an individual’s mate preferences can be inferred statistically through identifying commonalities in the types of people that the person finds attractive and unattractive (Wood & Brumbaugh, 2009). Using the same statistical technique, we can also estimate the extent to which the person is an accurate judge of character (Rogers & Wood, 2010), or is similar to others (Wood & Furr, in preparation; Wood, Gosling, Rentfrow, & Potter, in preparation). These findings have been used to show that men are more similar in who they find attractive and unattractive than women, and that people have amazing similarities in how they tend to describe their personality traits across the world. I have also shown that individual differences in how positively individuals perceive others are highly predictive of their own personality characteristics, ranging from their niceness, their well-being and likelihood of having personality disorders, and how liked they are by others.
General and “Context-Specific” Personality Traits
An important issue among personality psychologists concerns how individuals can have stable personality traits and yet also vary their behavior considerably across contexts. I have attempted to address this problem with the Personality and Role Identity Structural Model, or PRISM. Within this model, the way that individuals see themselves in general is a judgment formed largely by understanding how they act across multiple other contexts, such as with their friends, parents, romantic partner, coworkers, and so on.
I have shown evidence that how individuals believe they act in particular life contexts is integrated into their understanding of their more general personality over time. For instance, the way that college students believe they act within clubs and organizations appears to be internalized into how they see themselves in general across all contexts (Wood & Roberts, 2006). In my current work, I am attempting to understand where “contextualized personalities” come from (Wood, 2007). I am developing a model to explain why some youth report acting more responsible in after-school programs than they do in other contexts, and then explaining when this contextualized responsibility should be expected to “overflow” into how the youth behaves in other contexts (e.g., at school or home) (Wood, Larson, & Brown, 2009).
Student Research Opportunities
I am very interested in working with students that are interested in pursuing graduate studies in personality psychology or related disciplines. For students that are particularly interested in becoming deeply involved in personality research, I enjoy the opportunity to work together on research and encourage students to present their findings at conferences or submit them to professional journals for publication.
Research collaborations with students from my lab:
- Rogers, K., & Wood, D. (2010). Accuracy of United States regional personality stereotypes. Journal of Research in Personality, 44, 704-713.
- Wortman, J., & Wood, D. (2011). The personality traits of liked people. Revision requested from Journal of Research in Personality.
- Wood. D., & Wortman, J. (in press). Trait means and desirabilities as artifactual and real sources of differential stability of personality traits. Journal of Personality.
- Wood, D., & Rogers, K. (2011). Regional differences in personality exist, but how do we get to them? The case of conscientiousness. Under review at American Psychologist.
- Wood, D., & Hensler, M. (2011). Explaining trait variation and covariation through the many motives, abilities, and perceptions influencing behaviors.
- Wortman, J., Wood, D., Furr, R.M., & Fanciullo, J. (2011). The relationship between actual and perceived similarity.
Other major publications:
- Wood, D., Harms, P., & Vazire, S. (2010). Perceiver effects as projective tests: What your perceptions of others say about you. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99, 174-190.
- Wood, D., Nye, C., & Saucier, G. (2010). Identification and measurement of a more comprehensive set of person-descriptive trait markers from the English lexicon. Journal of Research in Personality, 44, 258-272.
- Wood, D., & Brumbaugh, C. (2009). Using revealed mate preferences to evaluate market force and differential preference explanations for mate selection. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96, 1226-1244.
- Wood, D., Larson, R., & Brown, J. (2009). How adolescents come to see themselves as more responsible through participation in youth programs. Child Development, 80, 295-309.
- Roberts, B.W., Wood, D., & Caspi, A. (2008). Personality development. In O.P. John & R.W. Robins (Eds.), Handbook of personality: Theory and research, 3rd ed. (pp. 375-398). New York, NY: Guilford.
- Wood, D., Gosling, S.D., & Potter, J. (2007). Normality evaluations and their relation to personality traits and well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 861-879.
- Wood, D. (2007). Using the PRISM to compare the explanatory value of general and role-contextualized trait ratings. Journal of Personality, 75, 1103-1126.
- Wood, D., & Roberts, B.W. (2006). The effect of age and role information on expectations for Big Five personality traits. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32, 1482-1496.
Former Lab Members: current location
- Shannon Stark, Arizona State University
- Molly Hensler, University of Alabama, Birmingham
- Jessica Wortman, Michigan State University
- Kate Rogers, University of British Columbia