Traits can be powerful, but are not enough: Lessons from subjective well-being


Diener, E. (1996). Traits can be powerful, but are not enough: Lessons from subjective well-being. Journal of Research in Personality, 30(3), 389-399.


In the field of subjective well-being (SWB), Mischel's (1968) critique of personality is flipped on its head: personality traits strongly predict SWB, whereas situations often have only a small influence. Thus, the field of SWB is used to explore under what circumstances personality traits are likely to be important. Because of the strong influence of traits on SWB and a resurgence of interest in the “Big Five” system of traits, the area offers an excellent object lesson in the pitfalls of a personality psychology that relies exclusively on trait constructs. It is shown that even when traits offer strong predictions, they do not offer a complete account of psychological phenomena. It is concluded, however, that traits can be very important organizing structures with which to initially classify and understand some important phenomena of psychology. At the same time, scientific understanding based on traits must be augmented by a process orientation and a study of relevant situational factors in order for the field of personality to remain an intellectually vigorous science.

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