As they get older, many people become more emotionally stable, more agreeable and more conscientious, new research finds.
Emotional stability is linked to fewer mental health problems, agreeableness is linked to being considerate and kind while conscientious people are more reliable.
The stereotype of the grumpy senior is totally misplaced, where personality is concerned.
The conclusions come from a study of how personality changes over 50 years.
The results showed that while personality is reasonably stable over a lifetime, it can also change.
Dr Rodica Damian, the study’s first author, said:
“The rankings (of personality traits) remain fairly consistent. People who are more conscientious than others their age at 16 are likely to be more conscientious than others at 66.
But, on average, everyone becomes more conscientious, more emotionally stable, and more agreeable.”
The study included data from 1,795 people who were followed for 50 years from the age of 16 to 66.
Somewhere approaching half of the participants saw changes in their personality over the five decades.
Some people changed more than others, while a few saw negative shifts in their personality.
The researchers conclude:
“Our findings suggest that personality has a stable component across the lifespan, both at the trait level and at the profile level, and that personality is also malleable and people mature as they age.”
Not all psychologists are convinced, though, that personality is even as stable as that.
One recent study of personality and aging tracked people over 63 years to see if their personality had changed.
“The surprise result — well, it’s a surprise to me at any rate — is that there was no relationship whatsoever between people’s personality at age 14 and at age 77.
It was as if the second set of tests — administered 63 years later — had been given to a totally different person.”
Perhaps, then, many of us will change much more than we imagine over the coming decades.
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
The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Damian et al., 2018).