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J Pers Soc Psychol. 2013 Jun;104(6):1077-91. doi: 10.1037/a0032276. Epub 2013 Apr 15.

The use of traits and contextual information in free personality descriptions across ethnocultural groups in South Africa.

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  • 1Department of Cross-Cultural Psychology, Tilburg University, Tilburg, the Netherlands.


The present study investigates the differences between 3 ethnocultural groups in South Africa in the use of traits and contextual information for personality descriptions and the interaction of these differences with social distance from the target person and with personality domains. Semistructured interviews asking for self- and other-descriptions were conducted with 1,027 Blacks, 84 Coloureds and Indians, and 105 Whites, representing the country's 11 official languages. In Part 1 we found similarities in the total set of categories used most often for personality description across the 3 groups-traits, behaviors, preferences, and perceptions (over 86%), which were context-free (over 66%)-as well as substantial differences between the groups in the relative use of these categories. In Part 2 we found that distance from the target person plays a role in cross-cultural differences in trait use and contextualization. In Part 3 we found significant interactions of culture with the use of traits and contextual information across agency-communion and 9 indigenous South African personality clusters similar to the Big Five. The responses of Blacks confirmed expectations for collectivistic groups (fewer traits and more contextualization) and of Whites for individualistic groups (more traits and less contextualization), and Coloureds and Indians had an intermediate pattern. The results are discussed in the framework of the trait and cultural psychology perspectives on personality.

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