New insights into lifetime personality chages

Posted on March 19, 2018

The researchers, led by Eileen Graham at Northwestern University, have compared and combined data from 14 previously published longitudinal studies, together involving nearly 50,000 participants from the US, Europe and Scandinavia. They looked into long-term studies on health and ageing that had captured data on at least one of the Big Five personality traits (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism) on at least three separate occasions among the same sample of people.

Combining data from all the studies showed that four of the five main personality traits showed statistically significant change, on average, through life, thus contradicting William James’ famous assertion that personality is set like plaster after age 30.

The overall pattern was for the other traits to decline across the lifespan by about 1-2 per cent per decade. It showed that participants became, on average, more emotionally stable (save for an uptick in Neuroticism at the very end of life), but generally less outgoing, less open-minded, and less orderly and self-disciplined. This is somewhat consistent with the previously described Dolce Vita (literally “sweet life”) effect, which describes how we change in late life in response to having fewer responsibilities.

While these findings provide new insights, it is crucial to consider the limitations and possible bias. These findings relate to sample averages, based on how personality trait levels were seen to change when data from all participants was combined. It should be noted that people change their personality at different rates and in different directions, as expected given individualistic differences.


Source material from Research Digest

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