The Structure of Personality Capabilities

Delroy L. Paulhus, Carol Lynn Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations


Wallace (1966) proposed that personality be construed as a set of abilities. Rather than assessing typical performance, as in trait ratings, he recommended assessing an individual's ability to perform social behaviors. We have elaborated this notion by distinguishing between personality abilities and capabilities. In this article we focus on the capability, that is, the ease with which an individual can display a certain category of social responses. A capability X is assessed with self-reports of (a) likelihood of performing X when perceived to be required, (b) perceived difficulty in performing X, (c) anxiety in performing X, and (d) tendency to avoid performing X. In Study 1 we examined the relations among six measures of 16 interpersonal behaviors in the context of the interpersonal circumplex. The four capability-related measures were shown to be measuring something distinct from the two trait measures. Unlike trait measures, which showed a circular structure in two dimensions, capability measures exhibited a positive manifold structure (i.e., no negative intercorrelations). The first two orthogonal factors were interpreted as Hostility and Nurturance, which are normally bipolar opposites on trait measures. Thus individuals capable of hostility are also capable of nurturance. The only dimension to remain bipolar was introversion-extraversion. In Study 2, the nomological network of the capability measures was shown to be consistent with the theoretical construct. For example, high self-esteem and interpersonal control were associated with almost all of the interpersonal capabilities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)354-365
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1987
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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