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A conversation with Joanna Sosnowska

An interview

We recently talked with Joanna Sosnowska about the special issue which she shall be editing, titled “Personality Dynamics in Applied Research“. Joanna is a PhD researcher at the Department of Work and Organizational Psychology at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium. The call for proposals has recently gone out and the deadline has been set on May 31, 2019.

Read on to hear more about the special issue, and don't forget to send in your work!

Joanna Sosnowska

Joanna Sosnowska

Q: Hello Joanna! What made you decide to put together a special issue on the topic of personality dynamics in applied settings?

I have found that there is a strong need for cross-disciplinary research when it comes to applied areas of psychology. For example, my research is about how personality dynamics, so how changes and interactions of your personality expressions predict work behavior, engagement performance, and et cetera. As such, my research is heavily based on theories of personality, but it is specifically focused on personality processes in applied settings. This can make it quite tricky, for example, if I want to write a paper, should I focus on personality theory, or more on applied settings? In my experience as an author, one needs to make the choice on submitting to an applied journal, or a personality journal. If one has to choose, it means that very often one has to focus on just one side of the story, when in reality, the contribution could be strong for both sides.

I have noticed that there is a lot of interesting research conducted in applied settings (e.g., not just in work psychology, but also in clinical, sports, and educational psychology). These fields often use personality constructs, but they have different tools, concepts, and methods with which to measure personality. I thought it would be very interesting to open up a venue for such research to actually show that if we connect the applied disciplines to more mainstream personality psychology, this might reveal valuable research to a broad audience.

Because I felt such a strong need for an outlet for this kind of cross-disciplinary research, I put together a small conference in Lubeck, Germany in July 2019. A lot of people responded positively to this and the interest was overwhelming! I thought it would be nice to actually push the idea a little bit further and consider an outlet where the ideas we discuss at the conference can be published and be put into practice.

I also want to mention that the idea for this special issue was backed by senior researchers around me, such as Joeri Hofmans, John Rauthmann, and Bart Wille; they are very open to these kinds of ideas and have been very supportive. I am currently pursuing my PhD, and when I had the idea to put together a special issue, my supervisors and collaborators were happy to support me immediately.

Q: How did you get interested in the topic of personality dynamics?

I have become interested in personality dynamics through my PhD. The project that I am working on was actually proposed by my supervisors, Joeri Hofmans and Filip De Fruyt. They were the ones behind the idea of examining personality dynamics in the workplace, and when I came across the idea of personality dynamics that it was very new to me. In working towards my bachelor's degree and my master’s degree, I noticed that the way a lot of people are still taught about personality is really focused on its stability; we have between-person differences, we have personality traits, and their stability is the crucial element of personality research. So, I was quite surprised when I came across the project I'm working on now.

As I continued to learn more about personality dynamics, I thought that it made a lot of sense to go beyond the traditional trait approach and look more at how our behaviours and expressions of personality change, because the manifestation of personality in our lives is very dynamic. I think it is intuitive that even if you are introverted, you are not going to act introverted in every situation; there are many factors that can determine who we are and how we act. For example, you may act extraverted and counter to your disposition, in order to achieve certain goals or to adjust to the situation at hand.

Q: Ideally, what would you like to see in the special issue, considering topics, samples, methodologies?

Of course, the main idea of the special issue is to focus on personality dynamics in applied settings. In the applied domain, there are plenty of interesting methods that have been used to examine personality, yet they have developed outside the ‘basic’ field of personality. However, such methods can give us a lot interesting information. For example, in Industrial Organizational psychology, it is common to use the Situational Judgment Test (SJT) in selection for the assessment of the interplay between situations and personality; the SJT can be also adapted to examine dynamic changes in personality. I wrote a book chapter on that with Filip Lievens & Joeri Hofmans; Filip Lievens has also written an excellent target article for EJP on integrating SJTs in personality research. What’s interesting here is that SJTs can give us different information about personality than the methods typically used in personality research. By looking at how personality is examined in applied domains and building on their methods, we can generate new insights into personality processes and functioning. I hope to see this type of work represented in the special issue.

In addition, ideally, I would like to see a lot of diversity in topics. I would really like to go beyond preconceptions about personality and take advantage of this diversity, so whether it’s sports psychology, education psychology, clinical psychology, or another area of psychology, we really want to encompass all those different disciplines in the special issue. In doing so, we hope to showcase research that looks at personality dynamics/changes in the context of social interactions (e.g., leader-follower dynamics at work, dynamics in family or school context, and in sports teams); also, research that focuses on dynamic, developmental changes in personality, whether it’s maladaptive development in the clinical domain, or development of interests and values in education.

It is also important to me that work sampling different populations are showcased in the special issue. This is a very important point in work psychology where the majority of samples are based on people who hold typical office jobs. I understand the reasoning behind it, but it does not get us the whole picture. I think it's important to study people that are not traditionally represented. For example, one of my colleagues here is doing a lot of interesting studies using fishermen in her samples, which is fascinating because not many researchers would think about doing that. When it comes to personality, it turns out that different personality traits are crucial to predict the performance and well-being at work of fishermen than for those who are in office managerial jobs.

Finally, I would like to see some diversity in methodology in the submissions. Research concerned with personality dynamics often relies on advanced statistics as it is very much focused on the person and intra-individual changes, and I assume that this will be represented in the special issue. But I also have seen some interesting studies that use a qualitative approach to examine changes in and dynamics of personality. Using qualitative approach can give us different insights on personality dynamics, e.g., looking at how narrative identity develops and evolves over lifespan can give us very rich information about personality development.

Q: Where do you see the field of personality psychology going in the next few years?

What I would really like to see are two things. First of all, a move towards dynamics, simply because it offers us new insights and can help us to better understand who we are in our daily lives. What's important is that there is still space for a traditional approach to personality within the dynamic approach, so it's not like we are saying, "Hey, stable traits don't matter"; stable traits are still important but they don’t tell the full story. So, I really hope that more and more research will embrace the idea that personality is more changeable than we might think, and that looking at the patterns of change can be more important than looking at general predispositions and general descriptions of people.

Another issue that I find crucial when it comes to personality research is that personality research is very often conducted in isolation from the society. Often, we look at personality as if it is in a bubble. But, it is important to remember that personality is also a product of the society. Situations around us impact who we are and those situations are determined by the societal mechanisms, and by economical and political systems. These different factors impact who we are, and are very important to take into account when examining personality.

I also think that with personality being such a strong core of who we are, we need to start looking at our research in a social responsibility context, because personality research is applied in ways that are sometimes good, and sometimes bad (e.g., Cambridge Analytica); it is important to consider how our research can be used.

Q: Are these goals also things that you try to incorporate in your own research?

The core of my PhD is looking at changes in our personality manifestations and how those changes affect work behaviors, so that would be a yes to personality dynamics! For instance, we might assume that being high in neuroticism means that your work performance is going to be lower, but by looking at changes in personality we found that if you are highly neurotic, there are certain situations where it can actually improve your performance.

On top of that, when it comes to the social responsibility, I'm trying to incorporate it as best as I can. I also find that thinking about social responsibility helps me to focus on other topics that I find personally important or interesting. For example, examining how work-life balance and the perception of work-life balance affects decisions that young researchers make when it comes to career choices, and looking at changes in the academia using the dynamic system perspective. In my work on this topic, I am looking at academia as a dynamic system – a system that evolves over time and that consists of a lot of different elements that interact with each other in a non-linear way. From theory on dynamic systems we can draw conclusions about how change occurs, and then apply them to change in academia. For example, in dynamic systems change often occurs in a bottom-up way. So change starts on a very basic, low level, which then creates a ripple effect in the system and brings changes to the system as a whole. Applying that to academia is very empowering, because it suggests that change doesn’t have to start from the top level, but we all have the power to make a difference.

Q: Thank you for talking with us, Joanna!

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