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Abstract

What is the relation between the smoothness of performance within a specific realm and interest in person descriptors pertinent to that realm? Although it would be reasonable to think that competent people are also actively interested in the ‘personalities’ of their competence realms, the present pair of studies shows just the opposite. Study I, examining people from a broad range of occupations and hobbies, shows a strong relationship between competence in an area and the rejection of the utility of person descriptor language (personality traits, external person qualities) for that area. Complementing this phenomenon, an emphasis on area-specific person descriptors is found to the extent that subjects are inexperienced in the performance area. The second study involves an experimentally-induced threat to competence among business majors and assesses their subsequent orientation toward business-relevant person descriptors (traits and external, i.e. physical characteristics). The results show that threat to competence increases subjects' orientation toward such person descriptors. and in addition, the competence-threatened group also evidences more subjectively-perceived consistency among those person descriptors. The studies were carried out on the basis of a notion of static/dynamic orientation (Wicklund, 1986a, b), which provides a starting point for the thesis that incompetence is associated with concern with the personality traits and external characteristics of competent people.