There is consensus, however, that human actions show at least some degree of consistency, which is evidenced most strongly by the sense of continuity people experience in their own selves. How can people reconcile the inconsistency between their own impressions and the empirical data? Mischel's cognitive social learning perspective presents one possible solution to this dilemma. Rather than trying to explain behavior by a few generalized traits, Mischel has shifted the emphasis to a thorough examination of the relationship between behavior patterns and the context in which they occur, as the following example illustrates. Assume that parents are complaining about their child's demanding behavior and the child's many tantrums. After observing this behavior in various situations, a traditional personality theorist might conclude that it manifests an underlying "aggressive drive." In contrast, a social learning theorist might seek to identify the specific conditions under which the tantrums occur and then change these conditions to see if the tantrums increase or decrease. This technique, termed "functional analysis" (as described in Mischel in 1968), systematically introduces and withdraws stimuli in the situation to examine how the behavior of interest changes as a function of situational constraints.
The controversy sparked by Mischel's work has not been completely resolved. Few psychologists today, however, would assume an extreme position and either argue that human actions are completely determined by traits or advocate a total situation-specificity of behavior. As with so many controversies, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.
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