Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Results supporting the predictive validity of assessment centres (e.g., Gaugler, Rosenthal, Thornton & Bentson, 1987) are at odds with widely reported findings that behavioural consistency among assessment centre exercises is low (e.g., Sackett & Dreher, 1982). Lack of behavioural consistency raises doubts as to how assessment centres work. Drawing from principles of person-situation interactionism, a trait activation hypothesis is proposed to help explain the conflicting findings and direct development of valid simulation exercises. The hypothesis holds that the behavioural expression of a trait requires arousal of that trait by trait-relevant situational cues. Cross-situational consistency in behaviour is thereby conceived to be largely a function of consistency in trait-arousing cues.;Two studies were conducted to test the hypothesis. In Study 1, 123 undergraduates completed personality scales representing aspects of task and person orientations, and an in-basket exercise designed to elicit task- and person-related behaviours. Half the participants completed the in-basket under directions to "get the job done" (i.e., task-emphasis condition) and the other half, under directions to "show concern for workers" (i.e., person-emphasis condition). Based on the trait activation hypothesis, trait-behaviour correlations were expected to be stronger in the more trait-relevant condition (i.e., task-related traits with task-related behaviours in the task-emphasis condition, person-related traits with person-related behaviours in the person-emphasis condition). Moderated regression analysis suggested that linkages were stronger in the person-emphasis condition regardless of the type of trait (i.e., task- vs. person-related). Thus, support for trait activation was limited. Study 2 (N = 124) paralleled Study 1 except that (a) the task- versus person-emphasis manipulation was strengthened, and (b) a broader array of task- and person-related traits was considered. Results were more supportive of trait activation as originally conceived: task-related traits generally showed stronger positive relations with task-related behaviours in the task-emphasis condition. Evidence regarding person-related traits was weaker, possibly due to the in-basket exercise being less relevant to such traits.;Results, although modest, have important implications regarding cross-situational consistency (a) within simulation exercises as a form of reliability, (b) between exercises as evidence regarding the construct validity of assessment centres, (c) between testing and job settings as a basis for predictive validity, and (d) among job settings as a basis for the differential validity of trait measures. Subsidiary findings are that (a) task and person orientations warrant consideration as broad personality traits, (b) reliability in coding in-basket responses is itself replicable, (c) cross-situational consistency within an in-basket exercise is replicable and increases with behavioural aggregation within situations, and (d) in-basket responses are multidimensional.



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