Once we select others to occupy our social environment, a second class of processes is set into motion—the evocation of reactions from others. Evocation may be define as the ways in which features of personality elicit reactions from others. Recall from Chapter 3 the study of highly active children (Buss, Block, & Block, 1980). Compared with their less active peers, highly active children tend to elicit hostility and competitiveness from others. Both parents and teachers tend to get into power struggles with these active children. The social interactions of less active children are more peaceful and harmonious. This is a perfect example of the process of evocation at work—a personality characteristic (in this case, activity level) evokes a predictable set of social responses from others (hostility and power struggles).

This form of evocation occurs for a wide variety of personality characteristics, not just activity level. Imagine that you were walking down a long hallway on your way to class, when suddenly someone bumps into you. You interpret the intentions behind this behavior depending on your personality . If you have an aggressive personality, you are more likely to interpret this bump as hostile and intentional. If you have a more agreeable personality, you are more likely to interpret the bump as an accident.

Aggression and the Evocation of Hostility

It is well known that aggressive people evoke hostility from others (Dodge & Coie, 1987). Essentially, people who are aggressive expect that others will be hostile toward them. One study has shown that aggressive people chronically interpret ambiguous behavior from others, such as being bumped into, as intentionally hostile (Dill et al., 1999). This is called a hostile attributional bias, the tendency to infer hostile intent on the part of others in the face of uncertain or unclear behavior from them.

Because they expect others to be hostile, aggressive people tend to treat others in an aggressive manner. People who are treated in an aggressive manner often aggress back. In this case, the aggressive reactions of others confirm what the aggressive per son suspected all along—that others have hostility toward him. But what the aggressive person fails to realize is that the hostility from others is a product of his or her own making—the aggressor evokes it from others by treating them aggressively . In short, evocation—the ways in which features of personality elicit reactions in others— is the second key process by which personality can af fect social interaction.

Evocation of Anger and Upset in Partners

There are at least two ways in which personality can play a role in evoking conflict i close relationships, after the initial selection of a partner has taken place. First, a person can perform actions that cause an emotional response in a partner . A dominant person, for example, might act in a condescending or high-handed manner , habitually evoking upset in the partner, or a husband low in conscientiousness might neglect personal grooming and consistently throw his clothes on the floo , both of which might upset his wife. In short, personality characteristics can evoke emotions in others through the actions performed.

A second form of evocation occurs when a person elicits actions from another that, in turn, upset the original elicitor . An aggressive man, for example, might elicit the silent treatment from his mate, which in turn upsets him because she won' t speak to him. A condescending wife might undermine the self-esteem of her husband and then become angry because he lacks self-confidence. In sum, people s personality characteristics can upset others either directly by influencing how they act towar others or indirectly by eliciting actions from others that are upsetting.

To research these forms of evocation, it is necessary to design a study that assesses the personality characteristics of both persons involved. Such a study was carried out, with the goal of examining the role of five major personality dimensions represented by the five-factor model of personalit , on the evocation of anger and distress in a sample of married couples (Buss, 1991). The personality characteristics of both husbands and wives were assessed through three data sources—self-report, spouse-report, and independent reports by two interviewers. The instrument used to obtain a broad-gauge assessment of sources of anger and upset in close relationships was based on the acts that men and women perform that anger and upset one (Buss, 1989). A short version of this instrument is shown in the Exercise below .


INSTRUCTIONS: We all do things that upset or anger other people from time to time.

Think of a close romantic partner or close friend with whom you have been involved. Fol-

lowing is a list of things this person might have done that evoked anger or upset in you.

Read the list, and simply place a check by the things your partner or close friend has done

in the past year that have irritated, angered, annoyed, or upset you.

_ 1. He/she treated me as if I were stupid or inferior.

_ 2. He/she demanded too much of my time.

_ 3. He/she ignored my feelings.

_ 4. He/she slapped me.

_ 5. He/she saw someone else intimately.

_ 6. He/she did not help clean up.

_ 7. He/she fussed too much with his/her appearance.

_ 8. He/she acted too moody.

_ 9. He/she refused to have sex with me.

_ 10. He/she talked about members of the opposite sex as if they were sex objects. 11. He/she got drunk.

_ 12. He/she did not dress well or appropriately for a social gathering.

_ 14. He/she tried to use me for sexual purposes.

_ 15. He/she acted selfishly.

These acts represent items from the larger instrument of 147 acts that one can do to upset or anger a member of the opposite sex. The acts correspond to the following factors: (1) condescending, (2) possessive/jealous, (3) neglecting/rejecting, (4) abusive, (5) unfaithful, (6) inconsiderate, (7) physically self-absorbed, (8) moody, (9) sexually withholding, (10) sexualizing of others, (11) abusive of alcohol, (12) disheveled, (13) insulting of partner's appearance, (14) sexually aggressive, and (15) self-centered. It turns out that the personality of the person we are close to is a reasonably good predictor of whether that person will perform these upsetting acts.

Source: Buss (1991).

The strongest predictors of a wife's anger and dissatisfaction with marriage are the personality traits of disagreeableness and emotional instability on the part of the husband.

After data were gathered on the personality characteristics of husbands and wives and the events that each partner performed that upset the other, statistical analyses were conducted to determine which personality traits predicted that the spouse would become upset. The results were similar for men and women, so we will use men' s personality traits that upset women to highlight the results.

The husbands high on dominance tended to upset their partners by being condescending—treating their wives' opinions as stupid or inferior and placing more value on their own opinions. The husbands who scored low on conscientiousness, in contrast, tended to upset their wives by having extramarital af fairs—seeing someone else intimately or having sex with another woman. The husbands low on openness tended to evoke upset in their wives by acting rejecting (ignoring the wife's feelings), abusive (slapping or hitting the wife), physically self-absorbed (focusing too much on his face and hair), sexually withholding (refusing the wife' s sexual advances), and abusive of alcohol (getting drunk).

By far the strongest predictors of evoked anger and upset, however, were the personality characteristics of disagreeableness and emotional instability. Disagreeable husbands evoked anger and upset in their wives in the following ways: being condescending, such as treating them as if they were inferior; neglecting and rejecting them, such as failing to spend enough time with them and ignoring their feelings; abusing them, such as slapping, hitting, or spitting; committing infidelit , having extramarital sex with other women; abusing alcohol; insulting her appearance, such as calling her ugly; and exhibiting self-centeredness. Indeed, low agreeable-ness of the husband was a better predictor of evoking upset in the wife than any other personality variable in the study .

The emotionally unstable husbands also evoked anger and upset in their wives. In addition to being condescending, abusive, unfaithful, inconsiderate, and abusive of alcohol, these husbands also upset their wives by being moody (acting irritable) as well as jealous and possessive. For example, the emotionally unstable men tended to upset their wives by demanding too much attention, monopolizing the wife' s time, being too dependent, and flying into jealous rages

Several recent studies have confirmed the important role of agreeableness an emotional stability in evoking or diminishing conflict in interpersonal relationships In one study that used both hypothetical and daily diary assessments of conflict, thos high in agreeableness tended to evoke less interpersonal conflict (Jensen-Campbell Graziano, 2001). One reason for this might be that highly agreeable individuals tend to use "compromise" in dealing with conflict when it arises, whereas those low i agreeableness are less willing to compromise and are more likely to use verbal insults and physical force to deal with conflict. The importance of low agreeableness in evoking conflict appears to extend to a wide variety of interpersonal relationships, includ ing those in the workplace (Bono, Boles, Judge, & Lauver , 2002).

These links between personality and conflict show up at least as early as earl adolescence—young teenagers low in agreeableness not only evoke more conflict but also are more likely to become victimized by their peers in high school (Jensen-Campbell, Adams, Pery, Workman, Furdella, & Egan, 2002). Agreeable individuals also tend to use ef fective conflict resolution tactics, a path leading to harmoniou social interactions (Jensen-Campbell, Gleason, Adams, & Malcolm, 2003). Yet another study revealed that those high in negative emotionality (high neuroticism) were also likely to experience greater conflict in all their relationships, wherea those high in positive emotionality (a close cousin of agreeableness) experienced less conflict in all of their relationships (Robins, Caspi, & Mo fitt, 2002). Indeed studies from the United States, Australia, the Netherlands, and Germany reveal that agreeableness and emotional stability are the traits most consistently conducive to evoking satisfaction in relationships (Barelds, 2005; Donnellan, Larsen-Rife, & Conger, 2005; Heaven et al., 2003; Neyer & Voigt, 2004; White, Hendrick, & Hendrick, 2004).

In summary, personality plays a key role in the process of evocation—in this case, the evocation of anger and upset. By far , the strongest predictors of this upset are low agreeableness and emotional instability . It would be premature to conclude from this study that this provides a recipe for choosing whom not to marry (in other words, avoid emotionally unstable and disagreeable people). But it does suggest that, if you marry someone with these personality attributes, your mate will be likely to behave in anger -evoking ways.


Psychologist John Gottman has been conducting research on married persons for three decades. His main question has been "What distinguishes the happily married couple from the dissatisfied, unhappy couple?" After studying thousands of marital pairs, some of whom have been happily married for years, others of whom were applying for divorce, he has found many ways that the happy and unhappy couples differ. He distilled his research findings into an applied book on how to make marriage work (Gottman & Silver, 1999).

Application (Continued)

His seven principles of positive relationships are summarized below. Several of these prin

ciples concern behaviors related to evoking responses in the partner.


Develop an empathic understanding of your partner (see Chapter 11 for

a discussion of empathy). Get to know their "world," their preferences,

and the important events in their life. As an example, once a day try to

find out one important or significant event for your partner: what they

are looking forward to or what important event happened to them.

Trivial as it sounds, try asking, "How was your day?" each day.


Remain fond of each other and try to nurture your affection for your

partner. Remember why you like this person, and tell them about it. As

an example, keep a photo album together and go over it once in a while,

reminding yourself of the fun times you had together and how much you

enjoy being with this special person.


In times of stress, turn toward, rather than away, from each other. Also

during the good times, do things together. In other words, don't take

your partner for granted, and never ignore them, even in day-to-day life.

Pay attention, stay connected, touch each other, and talk frequently.


Share power, even if you think you are the expert. Let your partner

influence you. Ask them for help once in a while. You might be surprised

to learn that your partner can be helpful in many ways. Ask for their

opinion. Let them know that their views matter to you.


You will undoubtedly have arguments. However, try to argue only about

the solvable problems. When arguing:

• Start gently

• Proceed with respect

• If feelings get hurt, stop and try to repair those hurt feelings

• Avoid being carried away by your emotions

• Be willing to compromise


Realize that some problems may never be solved. For example, perhaps

one of you is religious and the other is not, and both intend to stay this

way. Avoid gridlock on such unsolvable problems and don't let them

become permanent topics of argument. Accept the other's differences and

agree to disagree on certain issues.


Become a "we" instead of "I" and "I." Make the relationship real and

important and something to be considered besides your own wants and

desires. Think about what is best for "us" rather than only what is best

for "me."

Source: Adapted from Gottman & Silver, 1999.

Personality also can evoke responses from others in a wide variety of social contexts outside of mating. Extraverted people tend to crack more jokes, evoking greater laughter from others than do introverts (Eysenck & Eysenck, 1985). Agreeable people tend to evoke more social support from their parents (Gallo & Smith, 1999). And aggressive people tend to evoke more hostility from strangers (Dodge & Coie, 1987). One's personality, in short, can create the social environment to which one is exposed through the process of evocation.

Evocation through Expectancy Confirmation

Expectancy confirmatio is a phenomenon whereby people's beliefs about the personality characteristics of others cause them to evoke in others actions that are consistent with the initial beliefs. The phenomenon of expectancy confirmation has als been called self-fulfilling prophesy and behavioral confirmation. Can mere belie have such a powerful role in evoking behavior from others?

In a fascinating study of expectancy confirmation, Snyder and Swann (1978 led individuals to believe that they would be dealing with a hostile and aggressive individual and then introduced the two individuals. What they found was that people's beliefs led them to act in an aggressive manner toward the unspecting tar get. Then the behavior of the unspecting tar get was examined. The intriguing finding wa that the unspecting tar get actually acted in a more hostile manner , behavior that was evoked by the person who was led to expect hostility . In this example, beliefs about the personality of the other actually created the behavior that confirmed those initia beliefs (Snyder & Cantor, 1998).

Expectancies about personality may have widespread evocation effects in everyday life. After all, we often hear information about a person' s reputation prior to, or following, actual encounters with them. We hear that a person is smart, socially skilled, egocentric, or manipulative. These beliefs about the personality characteristics of others may have far -reaching effects on evoking behavior that confirm our ini tial beliefs. It is sometimes said that, in order to change your personality , you must move to a place where people don' t already know you. Through the process of expectancy confirmation, people who already know you may unwittingly evoke in yo behavior that confirms their beliefs, thereby constraining your ability to change

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  • igino
    What does the principleof evocation means?
    2 years ago
  • kalle saisio
    What is evocation in personality psychology?
    11 months ago

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