I ran across report from the American Psychological Association called Personality Stability from Age 14 to Age 77 Years. The study looked at teachers' assessments of a number of personality traits in their students at age 14. The study then compared assessments of these personality traits in the same people 63 years later.
In other words, participants were rated on the same characteristics -- self-confidence, dependability, stability of mood, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness -- at around age 14 and again at around age 77. The report went on to review previous literature on changes in personality over time, discussed some of the similarities and differences, and then summarized the conclusions.
Here are some of the results I teased out of the academic jargon and statistical flourishes.
This report found less evidence of personality stability over time than previous studies. It concluded that a person's personality typically does not change much over short periods of time, but it does change quite significantly over long periods of time. So personality in old age can often be quite different from personality in
There seem to be two periods when an individual's personality experiences rapid change. The first is during childhood, a "period of intense learning and many new experiences," leading to "more frequent" and "more substantial" changes. This period includes adolescence, which is described as "a particularly dynamic" time of personality development.
Then, after adolescence, it seems that a person's personality tends to remain quite stable through middle age, for as long as 40 or 50 years. Or as the report puts it, "Teacher ratings of personality in childhood ... were predictive of self-ratings and peer ratings of personality in middle age."
But something seems to happen as we enter old age -- whenever old age is, and it may be different for each of us. New, more significant personality changes may develop as a result of "the impact of changes in life circumstances, and
declines in physical and cognitive abilities common in older age."
In other words, we develop our personality by age 15 or so. Then for most of our lives we remain pretty consistent, exhibiting only minor changes in our moods, our level of self-confidence and dependability -- and how introverted or extroverted we are. Then, perhaps somewhere around the time we retire, our personality begins to change again, perhaps because we are no longer building a family, building a career, but instead are shedding responsibilities and all the stresses that go with them.
However, the study suggests there are two personality traits that remain more constant than others: stability of mood and conscientiousness. In addition, it tells us that intelligence also remains relatively stable over time, and people with higher IQs tend to score better on the dependability index. Or as the report puts it, "Childhood IQ was correlated with dependability in adolescence, and also predicted dependability in older age."
The report goes on to claim that old-age dependability also correlates with various measures of well-being,
consistent with research that has demonstrated a close relation between personality and well-being. It explains: "Higher intelligence may have led to higher actual stability of moods
through better ability to manage environmental circumstances to
advantage, and could serve as a resource for emotional stability in
But all these conclusions are somewhat vague, and they involve statistics and overall trends. That doesn't necessarily mean anything in our individual lives. I remember my mother was quite an agreeable person, while my father was self-confident, conscientious, dependable (and also judgmental and prejudiced).
But I also remember that when my parents retired, my mom wanted to relocate to Florida. My dad wanted to go to Cape Cod. They went to Florida. So perhaps my dad mellowed in his old age. Or else, just because my mom was agreeable doesn't mean she didn't get her own way.
My ex-wife was agreeable when we got married, but became much less agreeable later on. But then, I may not be the best judge of her personality. My older sister was a rebel as a youngster, with a lot of self-confidence, but she was also pretty disagreeable. She has mellowed now that she's in her 70s, but ... well, let's not go there!
Anyway, how about you? Are you or your spouse or your siblings the same people that they were 40 or 50 years ago? Does your experience match what the American Psychological Association says it should be?