Here are the three most popular ways people want to change their personalities:
- 87% of people wanted to be more extroverted.
- 89% of people wanted to be more agreeable.
- 97% of people wanted to be more conscientious (Hudson & Fraley, 2014).
It’s not surprising since, rightly or wrongly, these traits are valued by society.
Society ‘wants’ people to be nice, social and hard-working.
(Not that there’s anything wrong with sarcastic, antisocial slackers – but I don’t make the rules.)
So, is change possible?
In short, yes (a little).
A new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology tested out people’s attempts to change their personalities (Hudson & Fraley, 2015).
Participants in the study were asked about their goals for change and then had their personalities tested each week.
Many wanted to be nicer, more social and conscientious.
And over the 16 weeks of the study, many achieved modest progress towards their goal.
It wasn’t easy for people, though, when their goals were too vague.
For example, saying to themselves ‘I’ll be more social’ tended not to work.
What did work was making very specific plans about how to behave in specific situations.
For example, if you want to be more social, you might say to yourself: “If I see someone I know, then I’ll go over and say hello.”
The study’s authors conclude:
“These studies suggest that people may be able to change their self-reported personality traits through volitional means, and represent a first step toward understanding the processes that enable people to do so.”
The process of change was also fascinating.
The study found that the new, desired behaviours led to changes in self-concept.
In other words: people faked it until they made it.
Then their view of themselves changed.
Self-concept changes then prompted more behaviours in line with the desired personality change.
This formed a virtuous circle.
While the changes were relatively small, the study was only conducted over a few months.
Who knows what could be achieved in personality change over years?
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Personality image from Shutterstock