Friday, March 10, 2017

Does Your Personality Change?

     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 childhood.

     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 older age."

     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?

10 comments:

gigihawaii said...

I guess I have become much calmer due to my laid back husband. People have informed me of that, so it must be true. I used to be such a nervous kid.

Stephen Hayes said...

We probably aren't the best judges of our own emotional development so I asked my wife of 43 years if she's noticed a change in my personality over the years and she said I haven't changed at all.

Anonymous said...

I don't know for sure, I am becoming more outspoken because I just can't hold back with the new president and mean spirited crap he is doing for all americans! He is rich and knows it and I think a big bully and knows it, he has a lot of power and showers his children and wife with much but is he really happy, I doubt it but he is number one in his way of thinking and that is all that matters to him..He wants people to be like him NOT and more NOT..where is all the peace in this world and love, goodness gracious I hate the way our USA has become and pray for the many who will suffer only the rich can have health care, and only the rich will enjoy his presidency..I think he will not go the course!

retirementreflections said...

This is an interesting review, Tom. I can only hope that we change and grow over time as a result of our experiences and new learnings. Otherwise, what's the point?

DJan said...

Many of us aren't very good at self examination. I feel exactly the same today as I did when I was young. I love the relaxed relationships I have with my husband, but when I think of my previous spouse I realize that I wasn't anything like that back then. It could have been the relationship, though. I am happier now in old age than I was in youth. :-)

Linda Myers said...

I've been dependable all my life, and conscientious. But since my retirement, where I've been free to choose what I do and who I do it with, I'm more patient, a better communicator, and more mellow. I tried to please my mother until I was about 50, and now I don't have to do that. Probably didn't back then, either, but there you are.

joared said...

I don't think my basic personality traits have changed that much. Reactions from old friends I hadn't seen for over 50 years would tend to confirm that when we got together again. I think if a person experiences a major life change and/or significant health changes they may be more likely to evidence personality changes. May be due to neurological issues as I think may have occurred with my husband whose heart and respiratory issues (o2 to brain ?) seem to alter his personality, even some behaviors.

Savoring Sixty said...

I think the basics are still there from when I was about 15, but I definitely think I am still evolving in some aspects of my personality. Hopefully, any changes will be for the better!

Anonymous said...

When I was in my teens, 20s, 30s, and 40s, I was always striving to keep others happy and it never occurred to me that I had a choice to do anything else but what others wanted. Beginning in my mid 50s to now at age 67, as I look back I don't know how I was so willing to overlook personality flaws with overbearing people I dealt with constantly. Right now, I just remove myself from folks like that and still wonder how I managed to be able to be gracious and willing to give in at all times. Those days are over and I am so glad that I can now call the shots in my own life for the most part. At my daughter's wedding I saw people from my past that I had not had contact with for over 20 years and I realized how vulnerable and trusting I was back then with people I should have been more discerning of. The doormat isn't on my back anymore, but I still try to be as kind as possible, just get away as quickly as I can.

still the lucky few said...

Wonderful, thoughtful post, Tom! It's hard to self-analyze, but I'll try. I think I've stayed basically the same as I was as a peace-making middle child. I do think that I'm more outspoken since I've become older. And that's good—it needed to happen! My sisters give me more respect than ever before!