Do People’s Personalities Change with Age?
People go through a host of changes in their life — jobs, haircuts and relationships that come and go. But as people grow older, do their personalities change?
Personality is the pattern of thoughts, feelings and behaviors unique to a person. People tend to think of personality as fixed. But according to psychologists, that's not how it works. "Personality is a developmental phenomenon. It's not just a static thing that you're stuck with and can't get over," said Brent Roberts, a psychologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
But in the short term, change can be nearly imperceptible. Longitudinal studies, in which researchers survey the personalities of participants regularly over many years, suggest that our personality is actually stable on shorter time scales.
Earlier temperament seems to affect later life experience. For example, one 1995 study published in the journal Child Development followed children from the age of 3 until the age of 18. The researchers found, for instance, that children who were shyer and more withdrawn tended to grow into unhappier teenagers.
But those decades add up. Throughout all those years, our personality is changing, but slowly, Roberts said. "It's something that's subtle," he added. You don't notice it on that five-to-10-year time scale, but in the long term, it becomes pronounced. In 1960, psychologists surveyed over 440,000 high school students. The students answered questions about everything from how they reacted to emotional situations to how efficiently they got work done. Fifty years later, researchers tracked down 1,952 of these former students and gave them the same survey. The results, published in 2018 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that in their 60s, participants scored much higher than they had as teenagers on questions measuring calmness, self-confidence, leadership and social sensitivity.
Again and again, longitudinal studies have found similar results. Personality tends to get "better" over time. Psychologists call it "the maturity principle." People become more extroverted, emotionally stable, agreeable and conscientious as they grow older. Over the long haul, these changes are often pronounced.
Some individuals might change less than others, but in general, the maturity principle applies to everyone. There's good evidence that the average self-control of a 30-year-old is higher than a 20-year-old. At the same time, people who are relatively self-controlled at 18 also tend to be relatively self-controlled at age 30.
So why do our personalities change so much? Evidence suggests it's not because of dramatic life events, such as marriage, the birth of a child or loss of a loved one. Some psychologists suggest these events reinforce people’s personalities as people bring their characteristics with them to that particular situation.
Instead, changing expectations placed on us — as we adjust to university, the work force, starting a family — slowly wears us in, almost like a pair of shoes, Roberts said. "Over time you are asked in many contexts across life to do things a bit differently," he said. "There's not a user manual for how to act, but there's very clear implicit norms for how we should behave in these situations. So we adapt."
1. static adj. 静态的
2. imperceptible adj. 察觉不到的
3. longitudinal adj. 纵向的
4. temperament n. 性情
5. pronounced adj. 明显的
6. reinforce v. 强化