During the 1960s and 1970s, Walter Mischel (see Chapter 18) was questioning the notion that personality traits are consistent, claiming that the situation is more important than any personality trait. Although Mischel has since revised his stance on the consistency of personality, his views were accepted by many psychologists during those years. In a personal communication dated May 4, 1999, McCrae wrote: “I attended graduate school in the years after Mischel’s (1968) critique of trait psychology. Many psychologists at the time were prepared to believe that traits were Page 386 nothing but response sets,
6stereotypes, or cognitive fictions. That never made any sense to me, and my early research experience showing remarkable stability in longitudinal studies encouraged the belief that traits were real and enduring.” Nevertheless, McCrae’s work on traits while in graduate school was a relatively lonely enterprise, being conducted quietly and without much fanfare. As it turns out, this quiet approach was well-suited to his own relatively quiet and introverted personality.HOW THEY METIn 1975, 4 years into his PhD program, McCrae’s destiny was about to change. He was sent by his advisor to work as a research assistant with James Fozard, an adult developmental psychologist at the NormativeAging Study at the Veterans Administration Outpatient Clinic in Boston. It was Fozard who referred McCrae to another Boston-based personality psychologist, Paul T. Costa Jr., who was on the faculty at University of Massachusetts at BostonHow work together begunAfter McCrae completed his PhD in 1976, Costa hired him as project director and co-principal investigator for his Smoking and Personality Grant. McCrae and Costa worked together on this project for2 years, until they both were hired by the National Institute on Aging’s Gerontology Research Center, a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) housed in Baltimore. Costa was hired as the chief of thesection on stress and coping, whereas McCrae took the position as senior staff fellow. Because the Gerontology Research Center already had large, well-established datasets of adults, it was an ideal place for Costa and McCrae to investigate the question of how personality is structured. During the 1970s, withthe shadow of Mischel’s influence still hanging heavily over the study of personality and with the concept of traits being nearly a taboo subject, Costa and McCrae conducted work on traits that ensured them a prominent role in the 40-year history of analyzing the structure of personality.Paul T. Costa, Jr. was born September 16, 1942 in Franklin, New Hampshire, the son of Paul T. Costa, Sr. and Esther Vasil Costa. He earned his undergraduate degree in psychology at Clark University in 1964 andboth his master’s (1968) and PhD (1970) in human development from the University of Chicago. His longstanding interests in individual differences and the nature of personality increased greatly in the stimulating intellectual environment at the University of Chicago.