For our inaugural post, we sat down with Mitja Back. Mitja is Professor of Psychological Assessment and Personality Psychology at the University of Münster.
Since January, he has held the position of editor-in-chief of the European Journal of Personality. We wanted to find out more about who he is, what makes him so excited about personality psychology, and his vision for the future of EJP.
Q: Have you always been interested in personality psychology? If not, what got you interested in it?
In hindsight, yes, of course! No, but seriously. When I started studying psychology, I guess I just had an unspecific motivation to learn more about how people tick. If I had to name a specific single factor that drew me to personality psychology, it would certainly be my later mentor Boris Egloff. He held my first undergraduate seminar on intelligence, and later, offered me a position as a research assistant, where I took part in a couple of projects on the assessment and behavioral consequences of implicit aspects of personality. For my dissertation, he gave me the freedom to pick a topic of my choice, which happened to be the effects of personality on first impressions and friendship development.
During those influential years of my graduate and PhD studies, I experienced personality psychology as an admirably rich and ambitious area of research, both conceptually and methodologically. If you take Kluckhohn and Murray’s famous quote that “every man is in certain respects like all other men, like some other men, and like no other man,” personality psychology is the only psychological discipline that seeks to develop -- and provides a toolbox for -- an integrative understanding of human nature and individuality.
Q: What is a recent finding or line of research in personality psychology that you are particularly excited about, and why?
One particularly promising development in personality psychology is the increased focus on personality processes on a concrete state level. For a long time, personality psychology has much relied on scores on established assessment instruments as proxies of unitary trait constructs, using these scores to describe the structure, development and consequences of personality. These assessment instruments have been shown to be highly useful in the context of prediction, but they have been less successful in explaining why exactly what kind of personality structure should emerge, how exactly personality stabilizes and changes, and how personality expresses and exerts its influence on intrapersonal, interpersonal, and institutional outcomes.
By defining on a state level what it means if we call someone extraverted, conscientious or narcissistic and assessing all of these states as they happen, personality psychology is increasingly integrating within- and between-person analyses, levels of personality, and research on the structure, development and consequences of personality. Such an approach also necessitates multiple methods. I also think that this approach will help to establish a less metaphoric way of sorting and integrating exploratory findings, and of developing and testing personality theories.
Q: In your editorial for EJP, you bring up the importance of open science, diversity in topics and methodologies, and the contributions of young researchers to the field -- the recurring theme seems to be one of openness. Can you tell us more about what openness means to you personally, and why this has become a central goal for your editorship at EJP?
You’re right, openness is important to me! Life is rich and full of diverse opportunities, including alternative ways of thinking, feeling, wanting and doing. On a very general level, it is my conviction, and I feel that we as humans should embrace and celebrate this diversity. Importantly, openness to diversity should not be mixed up with arbitrariness or squishiness – not only but particularly when it comes to the quest for truth. With respect to personality science, I believe that we should be open to the many ways in which one can conceptualize, measure, and analyze personality. But, we should do it in non-personalized, specific, and transparent ways. This will allow us to relate alternative ways of conceptualizing and analyzing personality to each other and to empirically test the relative veracity and utility of each approach and finding.
Openness is a guiding principle for my editorship. I believe that it is a prerequisite for unleashing personality psychology’s full potential. In order to produce good science and to evolve as a science, we need diversity in what we are looking at, how we do it, and also in who does and has the chance to communicate this research. Also, given that many interesting research questions pertain to relations between diverse and multimodal psychological constructs (e.g., self-concept, momentary affect and motivation, actual behavior, peer perceptions, and etc.), openness to diverse methods that closely correspond to these psychological phenomena is highly valued.
Transparency is another related and complementary aspect of openness that is equally important. Like other sciences, personality psychology is currently undergoing a paradigm shift in the way science is performed and communicated. It is moving from a more closed science that has focused on competition between labs and the authority of individual researchers to a more transparent science based on collaborative efforts and accessible empirical arguments.
I am convinced that increased transparency regarding hypotheses/research questions, sampling, procedures, measures, data, and analyses will make personality science stronger. Following the TOP-Guidelines, we at EJP have also implemented minimal standards of reporting and we weigh in open science practices when evaluating the relative merits of each paper submitted to the journal. Of course, regarding publishing in EJP, openness goes in both directions. We as editors should be open to all kinds of ways personality can be studied, and authors should be open to the rich field of personality psychology that their research is embedded in.
I hope that openness as a guiding principle will lead to exciting papers being published in EJP that are thoughtful, based on strong, representative data, and presented in a transparent manner.
Q: What do you see for the future of EJP, say, in five years? For example, what would you like to see continue in EJP? Change?
EJP has been the home for in-depth contributions to personality science broadly defined, and I think it should definitely stay this way. I would like to continue publishing creative and rigorous papers on all kinds of topics (including the nature, expressions, development, and consequences of personality), across levels of personality (including motives and goals, self-concept, reputation, abilities, interpersonal styles, etc.), and different kinds of contributions (including confirmatory and exploratory original work, pre-registered replications, meta-analyses, theoretical and methodological innovations).
As I mentioned before, one important goal is to increase the transparency of papers published in EJP. I predict that in five years the vast majority of papers published in EJP will include full transparency regarding materials, data, and code. In the coming year, we will also implement innovative formats such as Registered Reports.
I would also like to explore options that might foster collaborative efforts between multiple labs. More collaboration across labs worldwide is one particularly promising way of overcoming the trade-off between the need for statistical power (i.e. larger sample sizes) and representative, “harder-to-get” data (i.e. beyond decontextualized self-reports). We will also try to increase cross-talk and cross-fertilization with other fields within psychology including general, developmental, social, clinical and I/O psychology and beyond.
As a more general, overarching goal, I would like to increase EJPs visibility and the number of highest quality submissions. We have a lot to offer and will do our best to convince more authors worldwide that EJP is the natural home for their best work.
Q: Why do you think researchers should submit to EJP? What sets EJP apart from other journals that specialize in personality psychology?
I believe that EJP is dedicated to publishing papers personality researchers really care about. It does so by publishing excellent, in-depth contributions to personality science to a wide audience of personality psychologists, but also to social, developmental, clinical and other psychologists around the world. EJP also currently has a high impact factor. Moreover, we have consequently implemented standards of openness and transparent reporting. Publishing in EJP means to benefit from and contribute to this reputation. Also, besides the quality of the science we publish, there are no restrictions regarding personality-related topics and there is no word limit.
Finally, in comparison to other personality and social-personality journals, EJP provides fast, high-quality feedback--the overall average time to first decision is less than 20 days! Desk-rejections are usually given within 1 to 3 days. After a paper is accepted, it appears online and in print rather quickly. In sum, EJP provides a great combination of reputation and service that researchers need for the timely dissemination of exciting research.