Our Personality Changes Dramatically over Our Lifetime, Research Suggests

By Perry, Susan | MinnPost.com, April 18, 2017 | Go to article overview

Our Personality Changes Dramatically over Our Lifetime, Research Suggests


Perry, Susan, MinnPost.com


Just how stable are our personalities over our lifetime? Do we have roughly the same personality traits in old age as we did when we were teenagers?

Most studies that have explored that intriguing question have suggested the answer is yes, our personalities do remain fairly consistent across the decades. But those studies have covered relatively short periods -- from childhood to middle age, for example, or from middle age to old age.

Recently, a team of researchers from the University of Edinburgh released findings from a much longer study on personality, one that followed people for 63 years. The study found -- much to its authors' own surprise -- that we are remarkably different people in old age than we were in our youth.

"Personality in older age may be quite different from personality in childhood," the study's authors write.

Study details

The researchers started with personality data collected in 1950 on 1,208 Scottish 14-year-olds. The data came from their teachers, who were asked to assess six personality traits for each teen: self-confidence, perseverance, mood stability, conscientiousness, originality and desire to learn. The teens were also given an intelligence test.

The researchers then tracked down -- in 2012 -- as many of those Scottish students, who were now about 77 years old, as they could find. They located 635, of whom 135 (92 were women) agreed to have their personalities re-tested. This time the personality assessments -- of the same six traits and using the same rating scale -- were done twice: by the participants and by a close friend or family member whom each participant nominated for the task. Intelligence tests were also given, and the participants' general well-being was measured.

The researchers had hypothesized before they started the study that the two sets of personality assessments would be consistent with each other, despite being conducted 63 years apart. But their analysis revealed no such correlation. That was true for each of the individual personality traits, as well as for a single underlying "dependability" trait, which the researchers based on the ratings for all six assessed items.

Other findings

The data did show a positive correlation between the participants' sense of well-being at age 77 and their "dependability" score at that age. Interestingly, however, their dependability score at age 14 was not related to their well-being six decades later.

As the authors point out, this finding appears to contradict that of previous research that has found "conscientiousness" (a trait related to "dependability") in youth predicts well-being later in life.

The study also found some evidence of a life-long correlation between personality and intelligence. Not only did the children's IQ results predict their "dependability" scores during adolescence, they also predicted their scores at age 77. …

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