Personality traits are the unique motivations, thoughts and behaviors that are possessed by an individual. In the past, changes in personality were only thought to happen in the developmental stages in childhood up to adolescence. After the teenage years, it is thought to be ‘set like plaster’, or the change seen is thought to be inconsequential or absent (Srivastava, John, Gosling & Potter, 2003). However, recent studies show that personalities do change in adulthood, even during the later years of adulthood, at old age, due to a number of reasons. In this essay, personality changes in adulthood and its reasons are discussed, including the limitations of the research method used to determine this hypothesis.
Studies have used the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R), or the California Psychological Inventory (CPI) to determine the change in personalities using the Big Five personality trait dimensions. During adulthood, cross-sectional research suggested that Agreeableness and Conscientious increased, while Extraversion, Neuroticism and Openness dropped as an individual progress from young adult to middle-age (Srivastava et al., 2003). Moreover, personality traits were found to change during the middle-ages (40-60) and old age (60+). This shows that personality traits do continue to change during adulthood. The five factor theory supports the biological concept that personality sets in at 30 in early adulthood and remains unchanged throughout the rest of the person’s life. However, the results of recent studies support the contexualist theory, which notes that change is complex and ongoing (Srivastava et al., 2003).
According to the research done by Roberts and Mroczek (2008), the first important conclusion drawn from the study was that most mean-level personality trait change occurs between ages 20 and 40. This means that early adulthood is an important period in which changes in personality is the most significant and should not be ignored. Secondly, the study also shows that personality does change throughout adulthood, signifying that adults have the capacity to change, affecting their personality to change for better or for worse. Thirdly, Roberts and Mroczek (2008) also concluded that the duration of the study also affects the results. It was found that as the time of study increases, the mean-level changes in personality are larger. Lastly, personality traits in adulthood changes positively. As a person grows older, they mature and become more responsible.
The more pressing question in mind is that why do these personality traits change. As suggested by Srivastava et al. (2003), “just as individual differences in personality lead individuals towards different experiences that subsequently affect their personalities, normative changes in personality help prepare people for normative adult roles, which in turn can support further personality changes”. different people tend to get exposed to a variety of different situations, hence shaping them to who they are. These changes in personality allow them to adapt to situations in different environments, which supports further modifications to an individuals’ personality. According to Rodgers (2006), life events such as work, marriage and parenting are important stages in life which could most probably shape adults as they require increased responsibility.
A study done by Roberts, Caspi and Moffitt (2003) contribute changes in personality in early adulthood to work experiences. They stated that individuals change their behavior according to the requirements of their jobs. For example, teachers tend to be extraverted as their jobs require them to interact and engage in discussion with their students. According to this study, people who are higher up the corporate ladder had higher extraversion and lower neuroticism. Therefore, the social norms of their jobs require them to adapt and ease themselves into such roles and thus personality changes. However, Roberts, et al., (2003) also suggest that it was the characteristics of a person that lead them into jobs that require these roles. Thus, this should be taken into consideration when conducting such researches.
Next, marriage also contributes to the factors in the change in personality traits. In marriages, the women and men have to adapt their personalities to suit each other as to create a cohesive relationship. In a study done by Nemechek and Olson (1999), most researchers conclude that individuals prefer partners who are similar to them in Agreeableness, Openness and Conscientiousness. For example, having an agreeable partner meant that they would tend to compromise to the opposite party such that frictions between husband and wife would be reduced. Moreover, Eyseneck and Wakefield’s study (1981) found that lower Neuroticism corresponds to marital satisfaction. However, Nemechek and Olson (1999) found that the results may not be universal for personality changes using the Big Five framework. In the present study done by them, similarities in Agreeableness to marital adjustments were only applicable to husbands, whereas similarities in neuroticism and openness were applicable to wives. This means that the overall results cannot be truly conclusive as the Big Five was not applicable to both the husbands and wives, and therefore, it cannot be applied to the general population. Another consideration to keep in mind that some people do look for partners who already have the desired personality trait and therefore the change in personality traits after marriage may be irrelevant.
The last factor affecting personality changes in adulthood is parenting. In a research done by Oliver, Guerin and Coffman (2009), they stated that neuroticism of the parents has a “positive direct relation” on the behavioral problems in children. From this, it can be seen that the importance of personalities in parents in effect to their children. Thus, parents would have a tendency to try to exhibit positive characteristics to their children and their personality would change in a positive direction. Research done by Prinzie, et al, (2005) has shown that children whose parents who have high levels of Extraversion and Conscientiousness have lesser problems with their behavior. Also, Nigg and Hinshaw’s study (1998) concluded that Openness to new experience in fathers would result in antisocial behavior in children. Therefore, since it concludes that parents’ behavior or personality does have an impact on their children, parents do indeed change their personalities as to allow their children model them.
However, the studies above may have certain limitations. Most of the studies are done in Western countries, which indicate that the Asian region is either underrepresented or not represented at all. Cross-cultural tests should be conducted to give a more comprehensive view of the study of personality changes in adulthood. I should make this into a larger paragraph. I cannot read certain words that Khim wrote.
Another limitation is that differences in gender are not accounted for. In the research conducted by Srivastava et al. (2003), it concluded that gender differences are important as they are molded differently according to the social experiences they are exposed to. This indicates that the research should include differences in men and women to give a more conclusive result, or, conduct the research with the gender independent of each other, which means that the study would yield two results.
Next, since the studies conducted had to include a time period, it was important to conduct the research on the same population before and after, instead of just using numbers of people to conclude, as each person has different ways of coping and adjusting to different environments and this would yield different results in the studies if two different people were to be surveyed on the same premise. Moreover, during the time period, many other factors may happen, like the subjects emigrated or worst, passed away, and it may be troublesome, or impossible to be able to call them back to conduct the research. The only variable should be the environment which would impact each person to change their personality traits and not any other factor. Therefore, this has to be taken into consideration in order have a more comprehensive finding.
Additionally, individuals are always different from each other; no two individuals can be exactly the same. According to Roberts and Mroczek (2008), under the same stimuli, two people may have completely different results. One may change to the circumstances while the other would not. Furthermore, they stated that even in the people who had personality traits changes, they had different degrees of change, making it hard to make a comprehensive and conclusive statement on the results of the research.
Lastly, even though most of personality changes are contributed to social factors, one must not ignore that biology plays a small part in this too. Genes do account to personality differences in the Big Five trait levels. However, through longitudinal studies, it was suggested that genes play a big role in the earlier stages of an individuals’ life up till early adulthood. After that, with a higher exposure to the social world, culture now has a larger stake on how personality changes to allow the individual to get used to adult life (Srivastava et al, 2003).
In conclusion, personality traits do change in adulthood and they do occur, in different degrees in different ages. Nonetheless, these personality traits are changed by people adjusting into new environments or new social roles and not changed at will. The factors work, marriage and parenting are the three important stages in a person’s life which they would most probably have to go through and would therefore affect the personality of the person. However, limitations of recent and majority of the studies have been made and future research would have to include the considerations in order to be able to have a thorough view on the topic.