The idea that people’s personality traits do not change noticeably over the course of a lifetime is widely held. Following this premise, we would assume that our personality traits will remain stable despite the social and biological changes we have gone through over the years.
This idea that there is stability in personality traits, being a fairly universal aspect, allows people to have some confidence in predicting their own behaviors and those around us, as well as serving. helps us make long-term plans (for example, studying a career considering that this will always be our calling).
In this article we will talk about how true is the idea that there is stability in personality traits or, conversely, how these evolve over the course of life, according to various studies that have been carried out on this subject.
Is there really a stability in personality traits?
In the realm of the study of personality, within psychology, there has been much debate as to whether there have been changes or stability in personality traits over the years.
While researchers in personality psychology place more emphasis on studying traits that remain stable in people throughout their lives, clinical psychology has placed an emphasis on changes in people during the therapeutic process.
The two perspectives could be considered as equally valid, because in each of the fields the objectives are different and, moreover, the study center are two sides of the same coin which have allowed people to adapt to certain circumstances. which means changes help an individual adapt to the environment, while stability helps an individual relate to others, make predictions and recognize yourself.
Changes and stability of personality traits throughout the life cycle
Considering the importance of the two factors, change and stability of personality traits, we will go into more detail below what each is.
1. Change personality traits throughout life
There are 3 factors, between different levels, that determine the possible changes in personality traits throughout the life cycle.
Level 1 would be that of dispositional traits, which are the personality traits that maintain a certain stability over the years and also have a transitional consistency, that is, in different situations, this personality level being the most stable.
Level 2 would be that of personal interests or concerns, a level with much more change than level 1, being linked to individual desires or motivations, therefore, it could be a level of personality that provides more information about a person.
Level 3 is the story of life; it is linked to a person’s true identity and it is at this level that the phenomenological changes in personality occur, which are really difficult to observe. This level, linked to the life story, integrates a person’s own existence so that they are able to answer who they are and where their own life is headed, which allows everyone to organize their own biography.
If level 2 refers to what an individual does, level 3 goes further by explaining where this person is going and who they want to become, being a key part of their own identity. His life story, included in level 3, combines elements such as ideologies, important episodes of his life that marked him, vital aspirations and also the legacy that he could leave at the end of his life to the generations. futures.
As we can see from these 3 factors, changes in personality traits are usually only present in certain aspects, they are those that are associated with interests, needs or goals and objectives that appear at different stages of people’s lives, so one could say that, from this perspective, there are no substantial changes in the personality traits throughout the life cycle, with some personality traits being more likely to change than other traits that remain more stable.
On another side, there are perspectives on this which determine that the changes would be determined by stable personality dispositions. They also indicate that the context in which an individual’s life unfolds and certain circumstances that have been triggered in the environment of that environment in which they live, which have determined these changes, could be determined in advance by the tendencies of his own personality to move in these environments.
2. Stability of personality traits throughout the life cycle
The stability of personality traits throughout the life cycle has received very remarkable empirical support through numerous studies.
According to Jacques, a person’s personality traits reach fairly consolidated stability around the age of 30, while for other authors who have devoted themselves to the study of personality, the traits continue a process of stabilization for a longer period of time and do not reach the peak of stability until 50 years.
Either way, most agree that there is a high degree of instability in personality traits throughout the life cycle.
According to studies carried out following the “big five” model, it was found that there is some decrease in traits of extraversion, neuroticism, and openness to experience over the years, while the other major personality traits, responsibility and kindness, increase with age, although no very significant changes occur after the age of 30, which would reinforce James’ original theory.
In short, several studies have shown that about 75% of the variance of the 5 major personality factors maintains lifelong stability, so only 25% or what is the same, a quarter, is open to change, which is quite enough. significant, although there is a larger proportion in terms of the degree of stability of personality traits.
On the other hand, these studies have shown that stability of personality traits is usually linked to genetic or hereditary factors, whatever the person’s life experience, i.e. the context or the environment, so this idea seems a little limited, and that is that the changes in traits can change depending on the context of each, because each factor is made up of a large number of characters that may vary over time, although the overall value of the factor remains stable.
3. Model that incorporates aspects of change and stability of personality traits
In 1994, McAdams developed a model that incorporated change and stability in human personality traits., taking into account the 3 levels of organization mentioned in the section on changes (disposition traits, personal interests and life history), which act in parallel in terms of functions and personality structure, having space for each levels for change and stability of personality traits.
To these 3 factors or initial levels, for this new integrative model, they added two other factors which influence the changes and the stability of the personality: the role of evolution and the cultural aspects.
The role of evolution refers to the fact that variations in each person’s personality are influenced by an evolutionary design, so that all humans, no matter how unique, follow patterns of change common to all others. . .
The differential role of culture refers to influence on the life experiences of each according to the cultural context in which their life develops, having a greater impact on their process of adaptation to the environment than on personality traits directly, one could therefore say that culture exerts its influence on people’s life stories, therefore it affects the psychosocial part of people’s identity, having aspects in common with other people belonging to the same culture.
- APIR (2019). Manual of personality psychology. Madrid: APIR.
- Benavente, MH and Quevedo-Aguado, deputy (2014). About the mature personality. Madrid: Editorial CCS.
- Bermúdez, J., Pérez, AM, Ruiz, JA, Sanjuán, P. and Rueda, B. (2011). Personality psychology. Madrid: National University of Distance Education.
- Bermudez, J. (2017). Personality and life course. To J. Bermúdez, AM Pérez and P. Sanjuán. Personality psychology: theory and research. Volume II (pp. 168-200). Madrid: National University of Distance Education.