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Dr. Richard W. Scholl
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Dispositional variables are those variables that are internal to the individual and which individuals bring with them from situation to situation and from one organization to another. These variables are often viewed as part of the individual's make-up, character, or personality. While some of these variables tend to be more easily changed than others, dispositional variables are relatively stable across time and difficult to change. Dispositional variables are often used to explain consistency in individual behavior across time and situations. The dispositional variables that we will study are

The Role of Values

Values are relatively stable beliefs about what is important and what ends should be sought. Values are generally consistent across various situations. Decision-making criteria and their relative weight in a decision-making process are a function of one's values. While attitudes are associated with people, products, organizations and other tangible things, values are desired end states. Values are essentially emotionally driven in that there is no empirically set standard as to what outcomes one should value. Without an affective system, an individual can determine through experience and research what particular paths are the most effective means of achieving an end state, but cannot determine what end state is more desirable.

Classification of Values

There are a number of classification schemes used to categorize values. Here are a few of them.

Terminal versus Instrumental Values. Terminal values are desired end states. They represent a position in life or society one desires to exist or achieve. When an individual can no long answer the question of why with because..., a terminal value has been reached. Instrumental values are desired means to achieve these ends. They represent preferred patterns of behavior.

Merit versus Worth. A similar distinction can be made between the two fundamental ways in which individuals access or attach value to things.  The two methods of evaluating values are the assessments of merit and worth. Merit is intrinsic and context-free value.  This is value in its own right, independent of possible applications, utility, or uses.   A scholar of Middle Eastern cultures and religions know as the preeminent expert in this field may be evaluated high in terms of merit despite the fact that her university has not program or course utilizing this expertise. Worth is extrinsic and context-determined value. This is value based on application or usefulness in solving a problem or accomplishment of a goal.  The worth of the same scholar would increase as the demand to courses in this field increases to the point that the university feels compelled to offer them.

Private versus Public Values. Private values are often called internalized values or enacted values. These are the values individuals actually hold and use in making decision; especially those decisions of which others are not aware. I have heard these referred to as "what people do in the dark." Public values, or espoused values, are those values we wish others to believe we hold.

Personal versus Social Values. Personal values are unique to an individual and are a function of past experiences, developmental socialization and interaction with others. These are often referred to as internalized values. Social values are values espoused my members of a group (cultural values) or members of an organization (organizational values).

Values in Organizational Context

Here is a quick summary of the way in which values effect a number of important behavioral processes

Motivation. When thinking about motivation as a behavioral choice process, we most often turn to the Expectancy Theory of motivation. One of the three components of this model is the valance, or value, of the expected outcomes of a behavioral choice. An individual's value structure has very strong influence on the valance attached to various outcomes.

Decision Making. The decision making process is composed of three components; Criteria, alternatives, and cause and effect beliefs (theories). The value structure of individuals influences the weight or importance of various criteria used to make decisions.

Conflict. Conflict between individuals and groups is a function of either disagreement about theories or interests. The strength of or importance of a party's interests are a function of value structure.

Ethics. Values, both private and public, play a central role in determining what behaviors and choices are viewed as ethical or unethical by members of a culture.

Socialization. One of the roles of a socialization process in a group or organizations is to communicate its public values to new members. When the socialization process is most effective, the publicly stated values of the group or organization become internalized as private values of the individual.

The Role of Attitudes

Attitudes are an all-encompassing part of everyday life as well as organizational life. We are bombarded with attitude surveys and we commonly talk about our attitudes and the attitudes of others. We also often describe individuals behaving in a way we find undesirable as having “bad” attitudes. We are advised to maintain a positive attitude and sometimes told that we have an attitude problem, but what is really meant is that we have a behavioral problem. Our attitudes are a complex collection of feelings, beliefs, and expectations regarding the people, organizations, and things we encounter. In order to study attitudes, will address a number of important questions. What are attitudes? How are attitudes formed, maintained, and changed? How are attitudes related to work behavior?

What are attitudes?

An attitude is a mental state that exerts influence on a person's response to people, objects, and situations. Our attitudes are the “mental folders” in which we store our perceptions, beliefs, feelings, and expectations about the elements in our environments (which we will refer to as attitude objects). Attitudes contain four separate, but related, components: Cognition, Affect, Evaluation, and Behavioral Intention.

The Cognitive component of an attitude consists of an individual's perception of facts, mental models (cause and effect beliefs), and opinions regarding the attitude object. Cognitions are often thought of as the rational and logical component of the attitude.

The Affective component of an attitude represents our feelings and emotions associated with the attitude object. These feelings are actually physiological responses to the people and situations. Some attitude objects evoke a strong emotional response, while others evoke little or no physiological change. For more about this emotional component see the Affective Motivation WebNote.

The Evaluative component of attitude is the summary component of the attitude in that this is where our cognitions and affect are combined to form an overall positive or negative orientation towards the attitude object. For example, a belief that Professor Jones is a “good” teacher represents a positive evaluation of Professor Jones that is based upon our cognitions (beliefs about her) and our affect (feelings that she evokes) regarding her. Like vs. dislike, satisfaction vs. dissatisfaction, good vs. bad, effective vs. ineffective O. K. vs. not O. K. are all forms of overall evaluation of an attitude object. We often store and remember an evaluation long after you forgotten the cognitions and affect upon which the evaluation was based.

The Behavioral component of an attitude is composed of our intentions to act toward the attitude object. These might take the form of goals, plans and expectations regarding a particular person, organization, or object. For example, statement “I plan to look for another job,” is a statement of behavioral intent.

How are attitudes formed, maintained, and changed?

Attitudes are often viewed and reflected in terms of the evaluative component of the attitude. As stated earlier, this is a summary component that is often stored and remembered after specific cognitions and affect are forgotten. The evaluation is formed as a combination of cognitions (information, facts, opinions, beliefs, etc.) regarding the attitude object and affect (feelings) about the attitude object. These are all the function for experiences, interactions, research, and observations about the attitude object. While attitudes are relatively stable, they are subject to change based on changing information and perceptions of facts (cognitive approach). Public speakers, colleagues, supervisors, and friends are constantly attempting to change your attitudes by changing your cognitions about things. Their ability to influence your cognitions is a function of their credibility. A very important element of credibility is trustworthiness.

Our feelings often anchor an attitude, that is, attitudes that are based on strong positive or negative feelings (affect) are often very difficult to change, especially through argument and debate (cognitive approach). Individuals seek congruence among their cognitions and between their cognitions (beliefs) and affect (feelings). Given this need for congruence, attitude change depends on changing either an individual's feelings (affective approach) or beliefs (cognitive approach). When components are inconsistent or instable, cognitive dissonance results. This instability, or dissonance, creates a negative affective state that the individual is motivated to eliminate. Dissonance can be reduced by:

    1. Changing one of the inconsistent elements. This involves attitude change
    2. Discrediting the information source creating the dissonance
    3. Consensual validation, that is, seeking others to support your initial attitude
    4. Developing a more complex mental model that allows the individual to hold both beliefs (introduction of moderate variable)
    5. Leaving or avoiding a situation that creates dissonance

People encounter hundreds of attitude objects in a day. Evaluation of each and every one would be extremely difficult and mentally taxing. In order to deal with this information overload, we develop a mental filing system, which is called categorization. We develop categories of objects such as men & women, students & faculty, athletes & non-athletes, to name a few. These only represent categories involving people. We also have categories involving cars, tools, and computers, as well as every type of attitude object imaginable. As we develop these categories, we also develop attitudes about these categories. Generally, we attribute these attitudes (cognitions, affect, and evaluations) to all elements (e.g., people, equipment, etc.) that we assigned to a category. While this is a very important and functional process, it is also the basis of incorrect attributions about people. Stereotyping is a form of categorization.

How are attitudes related to work behavior?

I have often heard managers say that a particular employee has a “bad attitude,” or have observed a manager tell an employee that, “he better improve his attitude.” Since attitudes are entirely in mind of the individual employee, managers cannot and do not know what their employees' attitudes are. When we say we want someone to change her attitude, what we mean is that we want her to change her behavior. It is not attitudes that make workgroups ineffective, it is dysfunctional behavior. Therefore, it is important for managers to focus on behavior. However, attitudes do influence behavior. This is especially true in weak situations. We will discuss the complex relationships between attitude components and behavior in more detail in Module 2, but at this point we can look at the relationship between the attitude components and behavioral decision making. There are four ways in which the attitude components become involved in the decision making process. At one time or another, we all use one of the following processes in making choices among behavioral alternatives. Think of selecting a car.

Cognitive Process. The purely cognitive decision maker rank orders the cars on the basis of chosen criteria and assess each car's attributes (e.g., price, comfort, safety, gas mileage, etc.) against the criteria set. A utility function representing the weighted product of attributes and criteria would be used to develop the final ranking and thus choice. This model represents the process used by individuals with a strong Thinking Cognitive Style.

Affective Process. Ordering of the cars would be accomplished on the basis of how each car makes the decision maker feel using the pure affective process. The car that evokes the greatest positive (pleasurable) affective response is ranked first. The affective response may be derived through association (i.e., category attributes) or directly attributed to the experience the decision maker has had with this car or cars in its category. The manner in which the car affirms or disaffirms the identity of the decision maker has a strong impact to the decision maker's affective response to the car. This model represents the process used by individuals with a strong Feeling Cognitive Style.

Evaluation Process. Attitudes are often stored in the form of evaluations without the cognitive and affective information that acted to form the evaluation. Using this approach, cars would be rank ordered on the basis of evaluation, that is, the overall evaluation of goodness or favorability.

Mixed Processes. The cognitive (thinking) and the affective (feeling) represent pure types rarely experienced and act to anchor ends of a theoretical continuum. Most people process alternatives on both a cognitive and affective basis. Sometimes the choice is the same using both processes. In other cases, the individual experiences conflict when one alternative is chosen using the cognitive process, while another is the preferred alternative using the affective process. This is often referred to as the want versus should conflict. People with Thinking Cognitive Styles tend to resolve these conflict using the results obtained from the cognitive process, while Feeling Types are likely to let the affective process override the cognitive process.

Personality and its Role in Understanding Patterns of Organizational Behavior

Personality is one of the most often used concepts in psychology. We use the concept of personality to capture and summarize all of the individual's dispositional variables. Personality is often referred to as the individual's make-up, character, or individuality. When we cannot attribute observed behavior to external or situational factors, we attribute this behavior to the individual's personality (see Attribution Theory). For example, when we observe an individual being very vocal at a meeting, or in class, or at a party, we attribute this behavior to an “extroverted” personality. Whenever we make an internal attribution of behavior, we are beginning to define our view of that individual's personality. There are a number of perceptual biases, or tendencies, that make it more likely we will attribute the behavior of others to internal factors. These tendencies mean that we tend to over-attribute behavior to personality, that is, we are too quick to label an individual with a “personality trait.” Once we attribute a personality trait to an individual, we usually use this trait to predict his or her future behavior. For example, we expect people we label as introverts to contribute little to class discussion, or we are tip-toe around overly “up-tight” people, because we believe that they will blowup if we tell them something they do not want to hear.

An individual's personality is often described in terms of a set of traits. A trait is nothing more than a label for an observed pattern of behavior. However, we use these traits (behavioral tendencies) to predict how people with whom we interact will react to certain situations. From this perspective, traits (especially those that are stable) are useful. This is especially true in weak situations. In terms of understanding behavior, traits are less useful. Scott is aggressive. What does this mean? It means that in conflict situations, Scott tend to behave in an aggressive manner, which means, doing everything in his power to achieve his goals and interests, often at the expense of the goals and interests of others. We can use knowledge of this trait to predict how Scott is likely to behave when we attempt to get him to move from a project that he really likes to one that he does not like. We expect this guy will act aggressively, especially if there is nobody observing the aggressive behavior who could adversely affect his career (weak situation). However, knowledge of this trait does not provide us with an explanation as to why he's acting aggressively. One might simply say, that Scott acts aggressively because he has an aggressive personality. You can begin to see the circular reasoning applied here. Later on, we will look at some of the root causes of traits (consistent behavioral patterns). The two variables that we will use to understand these patterns of behavior are cognitive style and the self-concept.

The Big Five Model of Personality

There are literally thousands of words we use in describing personality traits. What many researchers have begun to do is to group certain traits into categories of traits. Traits within each category tend to vary together. One such typology of categories or types is called the “Big Five” model of personality. According to the Big Five model, there are five fundamental categories of traits that have been identified. These are:

Agreeableness. The tendency of and desire of an individual to get along with other people.  This category captures traits such as likeability, affection, cooperativeness, tolerance, and empathy.  Individuals high in agreeableness tend to work on developing high-quality relationships and tend to be known as team players.

Conscientiousness. The extent to which individuals are focused on accomplishing goals and maintaining high levels of performance. Specific traits include self-discipline, responsibility, organization, achievement orientation, and attention to detail.  

Neuroticism or Negative Emotionality (Affectivity). The tendency to experience negative emotional states, distress and view situations from a negative perspective. Traits found associated with Neuroticism are insecurity, excitability, low emotional control. Those high in Neuroticism are subject to extreme swings and high levels of dissatisfaction. They also tend to perceive a pessimistic view of the future

Extraversion or Positive Emotionality (Affectivity). The predisposition of individuals to experience positive emotional states and to be sociable and friendly towards others. Extroverts have a need for social interaction and prefer activities that involve other people.

Openness to Experience. The extent which individuals are open to experiences and have a wide range of interests. Individuals high in openness are also described as curious, creative, receptive, and accepting. Conversely, those measuring low in openness can be described as close-minded, rigid, resistant to change, and inflexible.

These five traits have been found to be predictive of many job related behaviors. From the perspective of prediction, it is an important model. However, one must be careful in using this or any other trait based model in making decisions about individuals. While these traits represent behavioral preferences and tendencies, individuals often have the capacity to override these traits when required to by the situation. As you might have observed, these traits, or behavioral tendencies, are reflective of a wide variety of other dispositions including values, motivation, attitudes, and skills (see Affective Motivation and Emotional Intelligence for a discussion of EI skills). Two other dispositions underlying the behavioral patterns of are an individual's self-concept and cognitive style. I will discuss self-concept in detail in the Self Concept WebNote. Now, I will focus on cognitive style as a underlining dispositional variable.

Cognitive Style

In many ways, the human mind operates like a computer. Information enters through our senses (keyboard or microphone), is stored (hard drive), is cataloged (file folders), and is retrieved and analyzed (processor). Like different computer makes and processors, individuals process information differently from one another. The way in which the individual processes (gathers, stores, retrieves and analyzes) information is called the individual's Cognitive Style. Cognitive style has been theorized to consist of four separate dimensions, each measuring a different aspect of an individual's information processing tendencies. The Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is an instrument that measures these dimensions of cognitive style. The four dimensions of the MBTI are:

Extraversion (E) vs. Introversion (I)

The E-I dimension depicts the way that we collect, process, and disseminate information. “Extraverts” prefer interactive and social means of data collection and dissemination. They prefer to meet face-to-face to discuss issues and present ideas, rather than through memos, letters, reports or emails. They actively participate in discussions as a way to analyze information (they often “think out loud”). They are mentally energized and stimulated by social interaction. “Introverts” prefer to focus on one idea at a time and like to think about options in isolation, presenting a conclusion when it has been formed fully.

Sensing (S) vs. Intuition (N)

The S-N preference refers to how we gather and store information. We all need data on which to base our decisions. “Sensors” absorb data in a literal, concrete, and detailed manner. “Intuitives” perceive, collect and store data in terms of relationships, mental models, and generalities. We all use both Sensing and Intuition in our lives, but to different degrees of effectiveness and with different levels of comfort. Sensors are detailed and operations oriented, while “Intuitives” tend to be “big picture” generalists and strategically oriented.

Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F)

The way in which people choose among alternative actions is captured in the T-F preference. Individuals with a “Thinking” style rely on logic, reason, mental models (cause & effect beliefs) in making decisions. They tend to rely on the cognitive component of their attitudes in evaluating options . They are also prone to use a cognitive decision process. “Feeling” types make more frequent use of the affective attitude component, while using the affective decision process.

Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P)

This dimension refers to an individual's preference for either the analysis or the choice stages of the decision making process. Individual high in “Perceiving” prefer the analysis stage of the decision-making process, while “Judging” types prefer the closure of the choice stage. This preference manifests itself into important ways. “Judging” types develop a strong need for closure and once a decision is made, do not want to reopen issues or change the decision. “Perceiving” types, on the other hand, prefer to keep options open and tend to avoid commitment as they continue to look for more information to analyze. The other fundamental way in which judging types differ from perceiving types is in their need for and comfort with structured situations. “Judging” types tend to develop structures for themselves, find comfort in structured workgroups and organizations, stick to structured processes, and feel uncomfortable with ambiguity. “Perceiving” types tend to avoid structure, feel constrained by structure, and deviate from plans as soon as they experience the slightest roadblock in the plan.

The MBTI is used for many purposes including improving interpersonal interaction and development of problem solving teams. However, like other personality and dispositional measures, it should be used with caution and used as just one element of a decision making process.

The Self Concept

The self concept is a collection of variables relating to how individuals view themselves. It consists of self perceptions of one's values, traits and competencies, self evaluations such as self worth and self esteem, and social identities. A complete discussion of the self concept motivation model can be found on the Self Concept WebNote. As a dispositional variable it is important to consider the relatively stable set of self perceptions individuals that individuals hold. The perceived self includes perceptions of three type of individual attributes. These include traits, competencies and values. Two important dimension of the perceived self are level and strength.

Level of Self Perception

This dimension refers to the degree to which the individual perceives he or she possesses this attribute. Does the individual see himself or herself as highly introverted (trait), or a very good tennis player (competency), or a hard worker (value)? This dimension deals with the issue of where individuals see themselves, relative to their ideal selves, and is directly related to the issue of high and low self esteem. It is manifested in high versus low self concept.

Strength of Self Perception

Individuals with strong perceived selves are relatively firm in their perceptions of an attribute level. These strong perceptions of self are a result of consistent and clear feedback regarding the attribute. A weak perceived self is reflected in individuals who are relatively

Dominant Motivation Source

Motivation in itself is not a dispositional variable, that there is no single internal variable termed motivation level within individuals that is consistent across situations and time. However there are a number of dispositional variables, such as values and self concept, that interact with situations in predictable ways to produce what often appears to a consistent level of motivation. An individual's dominant source of motivation is one such variable. While all individuals are motivated by all five sources of motivation at one time or another, we find that most individuals tend to be motivated by one source more than others. Another way to look at this concept is to think about what happens when individuals face situations or decisions in which one motivation source is in conflict with another. Take for example an individual faced with a choice of studying for an important exam or going out with friends. This might represent an intrapersonal conflict between intrinsic process and instrumental motivation. The dominant source is the source that generally triumphs in these intrapersonal conflicts.