A new series of nine studies proposes that realness, the propensity to act in accordance with how one feels regardless of consequences, may be a distinct psychological trait. The study was published in the Journal of Research in Personality.
Being real means behaving on the outside the way one feels on the inside, without regard for personal or social consequences. It stands in contrast to “being fake” and this distinction becomes particularly important in a world, as authors state, “awash in ‘fake news’,” where “citizens are routinely manipulated by politicians who do not mean what they say” and where “social media platforms incentivize virtue signaling and punish straightforwardness.”
In the studies of individual differences, realness has been linked to psychological health and regarded as a principal outcome of healthy development and effective psychotherapy. Personality researchers distinguish between the true vs. false self, considering the former a manifestation of a healthy personality.
Realness also has its downsides. These downsides are the primary reason why people often censor what they say or how they behave. People often regret having revealed how they truly feel during particularly emotional moments and social tact often involves holding back in situations when revealing true emotions would be inconsiderate or inappropriate. In the political sphere, realness can sometimes garner support, but also sow divisions at a broader level. But, is realness something that varies within the same individual over time or a lasting and stable behavioral tendency?
In order to answer this question, professor Dr. Christopher J. Hopwood and his colleagues devised and conducted a series of nine studies that included large samples of undergraduate students, MTurk workers and a smaller sample from the general population of Germany. They aimed to study various aspects of realness, including its relationship to other psychological traits such as authenticity and basic personality traits, its temporal stability, whether it can be observed in dyadic behavior, and whether it can predict responses of a person in situations that bear potential personal or social costs.
To produce assessments of realness they created the 12-item Realness Scale (RS). They tested it in the scope of these studies both as a self-report measure and in the form where others rated the realness of a person using the scale. In the final study, they created a German version of the scale and examined its associations with a number of different personality assessment on a sample from the general population of Germany.
The results supported the idea that realness can be considered a distinct personal trait. It was shown to be related to other personality concepts such as authenticity, likeability and agreeableness, but sufficiently different from them. It was a highly stable trait that can be reliably observed in interpersonal behavior. When asked to compare (fictional) ‘real’ and ‘polite’ friends that are equally likeable, participants rated the ‘real’ friend as less agreeable than the ‘polite’ one. Authors conclude that “this finding supports our contention that a critical element of being real involves the ability to be disagreeable at times.”
This study helped define the concept of realness and identify its associations with other, more well-studied, personality traits. However, authors note that broader generalizability of the findings requires further study as these series of studies was done exclusively on so-called WEIRD samples (White, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic). Future studies should also explore the possibility that even within the WEIRD countries people with different backgrounds or specific groups might exhibit different levels of realness.
The study, “Realness is a core feature of authenticity”, was authored by Christopher J. Hopwood, Evan W. Good, Alytia A. Levendosky, Johannes Zimmermann, Daniela Dumat, Eli J. Finkel, Paul E. Eastwick, and Wiebke Bleidorn.