Long term study suggests personality changes dramatically as people age

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(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers with the University of Edinburgh in the U.K. has conducted the longest study of its kind on human personality traits and how they might change as people age. In their paper published in the journal Psychology and Aging, the researchers describe how they conducted their study and what they found regarding personality changes over time.

Most people believe themselves to be the same person all of their lives, but thus far, no one has been able to prove it. In this new effort, the were looking to test one aspect of self—an individual's , which is the persona they share with the rest of the world; they wanted to know if it changes over time.

To learn more about over the course of a lifetime, the researchers accessed data from a study done back in 1950 in Scotland, where a team had asked a group of teachers to fill out of 1,208 of their 14-year-old students (the assessments asked questions about basic traits such as stability of moods, self-confidence, conscientiousness, perseverance, desire to excel and originality). The researchers than went looking for those same students and found 635 of them, 174 of whom agreed to take a test similar to the one given to them by their teacher 63 years before. Each of the volunteers also brought along someone that knew them well, and that person also filled out an assessment of the volunteer.

Next, the researchers explored whether they could find any connection between the teacher assessments and those that were made later in life, when the volunteers were 77 years old. They report that they could not find any correlation at all—it was as if the second tests had been given to different people.

The researchers also report that they were surprised with their results, because other studies had shown some degree of correlation. Their results suggest that personality really does change, which may not come as a surprise to some people who have come across someone they knew many years before and found them to be very different .

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More information: Mathew A. Harris et al. Personality stability from age 14 to age 77 years., Psychology and Aging (2016). DOI: 10.1037/pag0000133

There is evidence for differential stability in personality trait differences, even over decades. The authors used data from a sample of the Scottish Mental Survey, 1947 to study personality stability from childhood to older age. The 6-Day Sample (N = 1,208) were rated on six personality characteristics by their teachers at around age 14. In 2012, the authors traced as many of these participants as possible and invited them to take part in a follow-up study. Those who agreed (N = 174) completed a questionnaire booklet at age 77 years, which included rating themselves and asking someone who knew them well to rate them on the same 6 characteristics on which they were rated in adolescence. Each set of 6 ratings was reduced to the same single underlying factor, denoted dependability, a trait comparable to conscientiousness. Participants' and others' older-age personality characteristic ratings were moderately correlated with each other, and with other measures of personality and wellbeing, but correlations suggested no significant stability of any of the 6 characteristics or their underlying factor, dependability, over the 63-year interval. However, a more complex model, controlling rater effects, indicated significant 63-year stability of 1 personality characteristic, Stability of Moods, and near-significant stability of another, Conscientiousness. Results suggest that lifelong differential stability of personality is generally quite low, but that some aspects of personality in older age may relate to personality in childhood. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)

Journal information: Psychology and Aging

© 2017 Medical Xpress

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Feb 21, 2017
Perhaps it also has something to do with how words/meanings change over the years. Perhaps it has something to do with 14 year olds joking around. Maybe the teacher gave them advice on how to do the tet. There are a myriad of possible explanations and much too small a sample size to draw any conclusion.

As far I can recall, that grumpy old man with a gun on his front lawn has always been there!

Feb 21, 2017
I don't know who came up with the cliche that people don't change. Of course they do - personality is just as much a social construct: people behave differently depending on who they're with. Anyone can observe that even in themselves, although some people find it distressing and consider it "fake" because it contradicts with their self-image, and then seek only the company of people who meet the concept of their "true personality".

"As far I can recall, that grumpy old man with a gun on his front lawn has always been there"

That's also a running joke. You know when you've gotten old when you start hating new things.

Feb 21, 2017
The personality changes in response to a changing environment, we have a set of personalities suitable for various conditions for instance, we have one for work; one for very formal occasions such as dealing with authorities; one for informal socialising; one for casual friendships; one for lovers; one for being at home with the family; and a set of personalities suitable for changes in age. Just as we experience a continuity between the personalities we adopt during the day we also have continuity between personalities we adopt to cope with age, but at no age is the child personality entirely excluded and playfulness, adventure, exploration, though diminished in intensity and more rarely displayed anyway.

Mar 05, 2017
14 yo is not mature. We may continue to psychologically mature until decline, but perhaps something like 30 would be a better comparison to late in life.

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