People get nicer as they get older, in contrast to the stereotype of the grumpy senior.
The finding may be a surprise to those that believe people never change.
They do — even if only a little.
The three main changes to personality that occur, on average, with age are that people get:
- more conscientious,
- more agreeable,
- and less neurotic (moody).
The study examined the brain scans of 500 volunteers.
The researchers found that typical changes in brain structure that occur with age were linked to changes in personality.
Dr Roberta Riccelli, the study’s first author, said:
“Our work supports the notion that personality is, to some degree, associated with brain maturation, a developmental process that is strongly influenced by genetic factors.”
These changes in personality suggest a genetic influence, explained Professor Nicola Toschi, a study co-author:
“Of course, we are continually shaped by our experiences and environment, but the fact that we see clear differences in brain structure which are linked with differences in personality traits suggests that there will almost certainly be an element of genetics involved.
This is also in keeping with the notion that differences in personality traits can be detected early on during development, for example in toddlers or infants.”
Dr Luca Passamonti, a study co-author, said:
“Linking how brain structure is related to basic personality traits is a crucial step to improving our understanding of the link between the brain morphology and particular mood, cognitive, or behavioural disorders.
We also need to have a better understanding of the relation between brain structure and function in healthy people to figure out what is different in people with neuropsychiatric disorders.”
The study was published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (Riccelli et al., 2016).
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, 2003) 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
Shiny brain image from Shutterstock