Variability in Personality Expression Across Contexts: A Social Network Approach


  • This research was supported by faculty startup funds from Vassar College. Many thanks to my colleagues Abigail Baird and Dara Greenwood for their comments on earlier drafts of this article.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Allan Clifton, Box 127, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY 12604. Email:


The current research investigated how the contextual expression of personality differs across interpersonal relationships. Two related studies were conducted with college samples (Study 1: N = 52, 38 female; Study 2: N = 111, 72 female). Participants in each study completed a five-factor measure of personality and constructed a social network detailing their 30 most important relationships. Participants used a brief Five-Factor Model scale to rate their personality as they experience it when with each person in their social network. Multiple informants selected from each social network then rated the target participant's personality (Study 1: N = 227, Study 2: N = 777). Contextual personality ratings demonstrated incremental validity beyond standard global self-report in predicting specific informants' perceptions. Variability in these contextualized personality ratings was predicted by the position of the other individuals within the social network. Across both studies, participants reported being more extraverted and neurotic, and less conscientious, with more central members of their social networks. Dyadic social network–based assessments of personality provide incremental validity in understanding personality, revealing dynamic patterns of personality variability unobservable with standard assessment techniques.