We Can Always Change
A new analysis of data from 16 longitudinal studies, with a total sample of more than 60,000 people from various countries, reveals some important insights. The work, published by Eileen Graham at Northwestern University, Chicago, and her colleagues in the European Journal of Personality Research, suggests that there are indeed some clear patterns of change through middle age.
Extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness and conscientiousness are the so called Big Five, the main traits that compose our personality. The team found fairly consistent evidence for change for all of the traits, except agreeableness.
Both extraversion and conscientiousness showed a fairly steady pattern of decline with time. For conscientiousness, this decline was clearest among participants who were over 60. This finding is consistent with several theories about personality change with age, the authors note, including the idea that for younger and middle-aged people, it’s advantageous to exhibit pro-social traits like extraversion and conscientiousness, but as social demands begin to wane in older age, so might these traits. Indeed, the team also found that openness, another prosocial trait, was stable through middle adulthood, before decreasing in older age.
Neuroticism showed a different, U-shaped pattern. Overall, the data suggests that neuroticism decreases through most of adulthood, then increases again in older age. This is consistent with the idea that in old age, we tend to become anxious about our frailty.
As the researchers write, “people change differently on different traits, personality is not stable for everyone across the lifespan, and accounting for or explaining these changes is difficult.”