To What Extent Is Does Personality Change

Personality development concerns the origins of personality and the degree to which it is stable or changeable from childhood through old age (Funder, 2007). The extent to which personality develops over a life time is a highly discussed and debated topic throughout personality psychologists. Such research relies on longitudinal evaluations of consistency in people’s performance based on theories from, Costa and McCrae’s (1987) Big Five Personality Theory. Despite the common perspective that personality traits, that the relatively enduring patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviors do not seem to change, the numerous longitudinal studies have been offered as a means to explain whether this is correct. The Following essay will discuss the five personality trait theories as a means of identifying personality change and what traits are more outstanding through different stages of the life cycle. Two main theories will be discussed and critically analysed focusing on whether personality continuously changes over the life span or whether personality ceases to change after a certain age. Finally conclusions will be made by using the evidence and arguments to arrive at a sensible conclusion.
Longitudinal studies from early childhood to late adulthood maybe able to clarify two issues that are common in personality research. One whether consistency or inconsistency typifies personality and whether all or just some personality traits are common important and enduring ( Hann, Hartka & Millsap, 1986). The five personality traits established by Costa and McCrae (1987), include Openneness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion which is divided into two components in the longitudinal studies known as social validity and social dominance, with the last two Agreeableness and Neuroticism. Each of these traits are measured in the longitudinal studies, where conclusions are made as to which or what traits continue to develop during the life course and which traits are more influential at different parts of the life course.
There has been some ongoing debate with Costa and McCrae’s (as cited in Funder, 2007), findings, arguing for the immunibility of personality, especially in adulthood. Whilst others argue that personality continues to develop sometimes, even through midlife and old age (Field & Millsap, 1991; Helson, Jones & Kwan, 2002; Helson & Stewart, 1994; Roberts 1997) (as cited in Roberts et al., 2006). Costa and McCrae (as cited in Roberts et al., 2006) have suggested that the consistency and stability of individual differences in personality is “set like plaster” after the age of 30. Whilst other personality psychologists including, Helson, Jones and Kwan and Kogan (as cited in Roberts et al., 2006) also argue that personality does change. These changes emerge from the analyses of different kinds of stability and personality does continue to change even through late adulthood and old age (Funder 2007). A recent major longitudinal survey by Roberts, Walton & Viechtbauer (2006), integrated the results of 92 different studies show that in terms of the mean trait level, people change notably over the life span. These results are according to the big five factor theory proposed by Costa and McCrae (1987), noting that agreeableness, consciousness and emotional stability all increase steadily with age, while openness increases rapidly between adolescence and young adulthood slowly declining around the age of 60 (Funder ,2007).
Further, by using findings from longitudinal studies a conclusion can be established, by examining changes across the studies and organizing measures into domains that are either specific or not specific to individual personality (John and Srivastava, 1999)(as cited in Funder,2007). By containing data from the majority of the life course, this can allow difficult questions to be addressed as to whether people continue to show normative changes in middle ages or if people change during more specific time periods and if they continue to show normative change in middle age and beyond (Roberts et al., 2006). Not surprisingly, normative changes occurred when most people change in the same way during a specific period within the life course. These changes are thought to be maturational and historical processes shared by a population ( Helson & Moane, 1987; McCrae et al., 2000)(as cited in Roberts et al., 2006). Social roles, life events and social environments change during the life course, and such factors have been suggested as important influences on basic personality traits (Hann et al., 1986; Hogan, 1996)(as cited in Roberts et.al 2006). Such normative changes in personality traits arise because of engagement in normative life tasks and roles including leaving home, establishing a family and starting a career. (Helson, Kwan John & Jones, 2002; Roberts, Wood & Smith, 2005)(as cited in Roberts et al., 2006). These findings however do not directly suggest that all people going through these stages display the same personality traits.
When exploring the specific progress of personality development, Costa and McCrae’s (1987) five factor theory is an important perspective. According to this perspective, traits remain so stable in adulthood that they are essentially “temperaments”. The five factor theory clearly states that traits develop through childhood and reach maturity in adulthood and thereafter stay stable in what Costa and McCrae describe as “Cognitively-intact individuals” (Costa and McCrae 1999).
In contrast to this view, Kogan’s (as cited in Roberts et al,. 2006) review of personality and aging highlighted the important approaches to personality trait development. The first approach is classical trait model of personality development. Secondly he emphasis the role of the environment and explains that the contextual models focus on the effect of environmental contingencies in relation to social roles and how they affect personality (Roberts et al., 2006). Finally according to Kogan (as cited in Roberts et al., 2006), the contextual interactional model of Levison’s, which focused on the building of life structures on childhood, early adulthood and late adulthood. Like Kogan, Baltes et al (as cited in Roberts et al., 2006), enumerated the lifespan development approach proposing dialectic between consistency and change over the life course. His theory describes the life span as an open system and it exhibits both continuity and change in personality throughout the life course ( Roberts Et al., 2006). Roberts and Capsi (2003) extended the concept further and keeping in consistency with Baltes’s (as cited in Roberts et al., 2006), life span approach, they proposed that identity processes can help explain the patterns of continuity and change in personality traits across the life course. Specifically the development of a strong identity which is a critical aspect of the nature of young adulthood. This is a period in which identities are resolved and people make commitments to life paths (Arnett, 2000)(as cited in Roberts et al., 2006). Consequently substantial changes in personality traits are expected to occur during this critical period (Roberts et al., 2006).
Despite the numerous longitudinal studies over the last 30 years, recently there was a variation between statements and claims concerning normative trends in personality traits over the life course. However it is clear that there needs to be more emphasis about the general question of personality. Does personality change at all over the life course? Until recently according to Costa and McCrae (as cited in Roberts et al, 2006), there was a dominant perspective that once adulthood is reached around the age of 3o, there is no subsequent change in personality traits. They concluded that there was no relationship between mean levels of personality traits and age in cross sectional studies of personality, nor are there age related trends in longitudinal data (Costa and McCrae, 1994, 1997)(as cited in Roberts et al., 2006). However more recently a new differentiated perspective has surfaced from cross sectional studies and two new narrative overviews, with evidence emerging that personality trait change in adulthood is occurring.
According to Costa and McCrae their earlier studies only compared the big five between five different cultural backgrounds. In the most recent research from Costa and McCrae they measured the big five between individual from various cultures over the age of 30 and younger for neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness and consciousness. Since the earliest studies, Costa and McCrae found that older individuals scored high on agreeableness and lower on extraversion, neuroticism and openness (Roberts et al., 2006). Helson and Kwan (as cited in Roberts et al., 2006), reviewed the data covering most of the life course from ages 20-80 and reported a significant mean-level change in personality across the life course. They proposed that people increase in measures of social dominance as they get older and decrease in measures of social validity with age (Roberts et al., 2006). In agreement with Helson and Kwan, Roberts et al (2006) also argued that measures of agreeableness and conscientiousness increase across the life course from ages 18 to 60 and neuroticism tends to decrease with age, possibly reaching a plateau in old age. Finally, they found a complex pattern for change for measures of openness, with evidence for this trait to increase in young adult hood and also in later proportions of the life course. The five factor theory can explain the reason why people change in this way across the life course. According to the theory, traits are dispositions that follow intrinsic paths of development essentially independent to environmental influences (McCrae et al 2001)(as cited Roberts et a;., 2006). Life experiences and life lessons centered in young adulthood are the most likely reason for the patterns of development, especially in the increases of social dominance, conscientiousness and emotional stability (Roberts et al., 2005).
Since longitudinal studies give us the opportunity to test changes in personality during the life course it can also test the potential differences in personality traits between the different genders. Guttmann (as cited in Roberts et al., 2006), proposed that men and women change differently in the middle ages according to their demands of sex-gender roles. Men became more nurturing and emotional during the transition from adulthood to middle age due to the drive from occupational success to the role of the family in midlife. In contrast when investigating women, it was found that they became less nurturing and emotional during the same life stages as they shifted to their potential career after their children have grown older (Guttmann, 1987; Roberts & Helson, 1997; Wink & Helson, 1993)(as cited in Roberts et al., 2006). Central to this view, larger increases on measures of agreeableness for men between ages 40 and 60, whereas women should increase more so then men on social dominance during the same age period (Roberts et al., 2006). No previous research showed evidence that men or women should differ in other traits during other age periods.
The implications for personality changes over time were investigated by using several longitudinal studies by various researchers. Roberts et al. (2006), study found personality traits show a normative change across the life course. More specifically people become more socially dominant, conscientious and emotionally stable mostly in young adulthood. While two traits that decrease in old age are social validity and openness to experience. It was also concluded that whilst many trait models emphasise stability at the age of 30, evidence was found for change in the middle and old age for four of the trait categories (Roberts et al., 2003).
Following this, a noteworthy finding was that personality traits changed more often in adulthood than another period of the life course including adolescence (Roberts et al., 2006). However an argument could be made that personality is thought to stop developing once adulthood is reached, with chronological age markers for adulthood ranging from ages 18 to 30 (Capsi & Roberts, 1999; Roberts & Del Vecchio, 2000)( as cited in Roberts et al., 2006). In contradiction to this, data from Roberts et al (2006) study shows evidence that adulthood is the period of life in which people transition from their family of origin to their family of destination, from education to a career and being active members of their community, is the time in which we see the most personality trait change and uniformly positive pattern of change at that.
There are a few limitations of these types of longitudinal studies, which need to be considered when interpreting the results. For instance, in regards to the study from Roberts et al. (2006) it has been reviewed that the study was based on highly educated, middle class people. It is important that when undertaking these kinds of studies people from all kinds of socio-economic backgrounds are considered to gain adequate results. The study from Staudinger & Kunzmann (2005), did not explore the development process in detail with different cultural backgrounds. It is important to do so especially in studies like this to achieve a better understanding of the differences of developmental process between different cultural backgrounds.
In summary, questions about whether personality continues to develop during the life period are constantly spoken about throughout the psychological field. The five personality traits have been discussed throughout with clarification to which traits are more or less exercised throughout the life period. In addition theories and research have displayed two explanations to the question, one offers the explanation that the big five personality traits become stable and immune at the age of 30 and cease to change from then on in for the rest of the life period. The second research results of a longitudinal study have displayed evidence that personality does continue to change well beyond the age of 30 and as far in to the old age period. As a result, it seems intrinsically positive to conclude that through the analysis of the findings a sensible conclusion can be made following both theories. Personality does continue to change through the whole life cycle especially in the areas of social dominance, conscientiousness and emotional stability.

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