Cognitive Dynamics of Proxy Responding: The Diverging Perspectives of Actors and Observers
Norbert Schwarz and Tracy Wellens
Psychological research demonstrated that people tend to explain their own behavior in terms of situational influences, but the behavior of others in terms of their dispositions (personality or likes and dislikes). We apply this literature to the cognitive processes underlying self and proxy reports. Several experiments demonstrate that proxy reports on related issues show a higher internal consistency than self reports, reflecting that related judgments are derived from the same dispositional information. Hence, the internal consistency of proxy reports should not be taken as evidence for their accuracy. Moreover, proxy reports underestimate the variability of behavior over time. Accordingly, proxy reports and self reports show low convergence for short and recent reference periods, for which the actor can draw on episodic information in providing self report. As the actor's access to episodic information decreases, the actor has to rely on dispositional information as well. Hence, convergence increases for distant events and lengthy reference periods. Implications for future research, respondent selection rules, and questionnaire construction are discussed.
Self reports; proxy reports; behavioral reports; autobiographical memory; response effects; response errors.