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Personality in Context: An Interpersonal Systems Perspective


  • Vivian Zayas and Yuichi Shoda, Department of Psychology, University of Washington. Ozlem N. Ayduk, Columbia University.

  • This work was supported in part by the University of Washington Royalty Research Fund, Grant MH39349 and NRSA Predoctoral Fellowship from the National Institute of Mental Health. We thank Harry Reis for his detailed and constructive comments on an earlier draft, and special issue editor, Lynne Cooper, for her gentle, considerate, and unwavering leadership that guided this project from its inception.

concerning this article should be addressed to Vivian Zayas or Yuichi Shoda, Department of Psychology, University of Washington, Box 351525, Seattle, Washington 98195-1525. Electronic mail may be sent to, or


ABSTRACT Because a significant part of individuals' lives involve close relationships, an important and substantial part of the situations they encounter consists of other people's behaviors. We suggest that individuals' characteristic ways of behaving, which are typically attributed to “personality,” arise from two processes. One lies primarily within the individual, conceptualized as individual differences in one's cognitive and affective processing system. The other process, which has received less attention in personality research, lies outside the person in the individual differences in the situations that people encounter in their everyday lives. The interplay between these two processes can be particularly relevant for understanding close relationships. By assuming that each partner's behavior provides the situational context for the other partner, we conceptualize a dyadic relationship as the “interlocking” of the cognitive-affective processing systems of both partners. We illustrate this approach to personality-in-context with a hypothetical scenario and use this framework to organize research on attachment styles, rejection sensitivity, self-fulfilling prophecy, the self in relation to others, and interdependence theory.