Friday, April 14, 2006


At some point I mentioned Nisbett and Ross's book "The Person and The Situation" which challenges much of the research on personality based on evidence that people appear to quite clearly and consistently deviate from their "personalities" and respond to the situation at hand. While this book made me more skeptical of the study of personality, some interesting new research finds that people's scores on personality tests change depending on which language they are using. From a study of a bunch of bilingual Mexicans and Americans:

Participants twice completed a questionnaire gauging the 'Big Five' personality dimensions of extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness and neuroticism -- once in English and once in Spanish. Across three separate samples, the researchers observed the same pattern -- when the participants completed an English version of the questionnaire, they tended to score higher on extraversion, agreeableness and conscientiousness, and slightly lower on neuroticism, compared with when they completed a Spanish version.

I really don't know what to make of this, but it is kinda interesting.

(Econometrics note -- This study uses individual fixed effects to identify the effect of language on personality. Just comparing individuals who speak Spanish to individuals who speak English does not produce credible estimates because the effect of language on personality cannot be separated from the effects of culture, etc. that typically are tied to language. To eliminate these concerns and more precisely isolate the effect of language only, the researchers compare the same individuals to themselves when they are speaking a different language. Econometrically, this is the same as including a dummy variable for each person in the sample. This dummy variable picks up all of the unobserved attributes of the individual that are fixed over time (e.g., their cultural background).)

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