Do people change throughout their lives? It is perhaps one of the oldest and most debated questions in society in general, as well as in philosophy and psychology.
Although the personality has traditionally been viewed as a rigid construction, stable and difficult to change; a number of studies show that this is not entirely true. Below we analyze the details of this study and the possible causes influencing it. personality changes.
How is personality defined?
Personality is a basic construct in the field of psychology, so over the years of its study a large number of definitions have been developed. However, most of them have a number of things in common that can help us understand what this concept is all about.
Generally speaking, the concept of personality can be summarized as combination of thoughts, emotions and feelings that define a particular person. They are stable over time and do not vary from one situation to another.
The Big Five model
Each person’s personality traits can be seen reflected in their actions and behaviors, being consistent across situations and independent of the contexts that the subject lives or experiences. For this reason, personality is what makes a person unique.
These personality traits referred to are those included in the Big Five model, with the latter being the most widely accepted model today. Depending on the model, there is five major dimensions that form the basis of our personality. These are:
- Openness to experience.
Of course, these dimensions are not the same in everyone, but the scores of these can vary considerably from one subject to another. Therefore, each individual personality is the product of endless combinations of these traits.
Likewise, although the personality remains stable through situations, this does not imply that the person will always behave the same, but that the personality governs the way we perceive reality and interact with it, creating a series. complex and relatively flexible trends and patterns. .
This flexibility is explained by the fact that the person needs to adapt to the environment that surrounds him. This does not mean that we cease to be ourselves, but that our personality has the capacity to fluctuate through the different times of our life.
The main theories also agree that the personality accompanies the person from birth, possessing a series of specific functions that will be modified and changed in interaction with their context and the life experiences of the latter, being, in addition, essential for the development of the social capacities of the person and therefore for the integration of this one in the society.
Can Personality Change Throughout Life?
The question of whether our personality can change more or less drastically throughout our lives is a constant throughout the history of psychology. Therefore, it is logical to think that after all this debate and research, psychology would have a definitive answer, but it remains a mystery in constant research.
The main reason why it is so extremely difficult to solve is the challenge of scientific studies is to rigorously monitor the subjects throughout his life.
However, several teams of scientists managed to conduct a thorough follow-up of the participants, drawing a series of conclusions that contradict the well-known statement by psychologist and philosopher William James that each individual’s personality was unable to undergo significant psychological alterations from the age of 30, At least in terms of personality.
Northwestern University study
In this research, led by psychologist Eileen Graham, the results of 14 previously published longitudinal studies were compared and combined. In total, it is obtained data from about 50,000 participants from various states in the United States and Europe.
After an in-depth examination, the results obtained confirm or even expand the existing knowledge. Establish that personality traits tend to deteriorate and change over time and, moreover, in more or less predictable ways.
For the study, Graham and his team searched for long-term studies related to health and aging in which data was also collected on at least one of the five personality traits of the Big Five. three times in the life of the participant.
It should be noted that there was a bias in the included studies to assess the elderly, but this helps to counteract existing studies on personality change throughout life, which were biased in favor of more participants. youth.
The combination of the results of the studies evaluated revealed that four of the five personality dimensions showed statistically significant changes, On average, throughout people’s lives. The only exception was the “kindness” dimension, which seemed to remain relatively stable overall.
As for the other traits, they tended to change by about 1 or 2% for each decade. The participants became roughly more emotionally stable, less outgoing, less open, less orderly, and less disciplined.
These findings coincide with some personality theories which hypothesize that older people tend to experience changes in their personality. in response to reduced responsibilities.
If we focus on the results of samples of younger participants, the results also provided evidence that the traits of “responsibility”, “extraversion” and “openness to experience” underwent an increase in score early in the course. maturity.
This fact is consistent with another theory known as the “maturity principle”., Which states that personalities tend to improve throughout life as we adjust to the growing challenges of work and family responsibilities.
Finally, the study reveals that although there is a relatively constant pattern of personality changes, there is great individual variability in these patterns. According to Graham and colleagues, this means that not everyone changes at the same speed or in the same direction.
Why are we changing?
As noted above, personality is a relatively flexible construct that can be affected by events that happen to us throughout our lives. Social pressures, change of vital role or biological changes they can come to influence our emotional state, our way of being and of course our personality.
A very common example is one that happens to people who have suffered very severe or traumatic losses who refer to “not being the same” after this stressful event.
Some other events or vital events that can change our personality are:
- Maternity and paternity.
- The death of a loved one.
- the puberty.
- Adapt to a completely different culture.