What does the literature say?
The question of whether personality changes across a person’s lifetime is a controversial and highly debated subject. This debate often takes the form of whether personality changes occur as the result of intrinsic causes or by virtue of major life experiences. This source is a study of personality changes which attempts to answer this debate. Researchers performed a longitudinal study that studied the changes in “the mean levels and ranks the order of the Big Five personality traits in a heterogeneous sample of 14,718 Germans” throughout their adult lives (Specht, Egloff, & Schmukle, 2011). The study used regression models to show if Big Five traits showed significant changes across time to measure the stability of traits in relation to life events such as midlife and events such as deaths.
The findings of the study showed that there were significant changes in personality traits in relation to life events and age-related events. The most revealing part of this study was that the most significant changes occurred in relation to large impacting events and age-related changes but the majority of these changes were the result of social demands and experience derived from age (Specht, Egloff, & Schmukle, 2011).
One of the most important aspects of this study is that it confirms that the Big Five traits can be altered significantly by external forces but that these changes may be contingent on internalizations of experience and how a person interprets events within his or her experience. This presents a strong argument for the idea that trait development is intrinsically tied with external experiences and that these experiences and traits can affect each other over time. More study would be needed in this area to develop connections between specific traits and events and how these are affected across time.
In a study of Big Five traits, researchers hypothesized that the age differences would impact trait development. The research methodology was performed using the “mean-level age differences in the Big Five personality domains, as well as 10 more specific facet traits within those domains” (Soto, John, Gosling, & Potter, 2011). The study was performed on the internet which allowed for a tremendous cross-sectional sample (N = 1,267,218) which included a large demographic of children, adolescents, and adults with ages range from 10–65 (Soto, John, Gosling, & Potter, 2011). The large sample allowed for study for age trends to be observed with regard to trait changes. The results showed that there were significant age and gender differences which impacted Big Five domains. For example, all groups showed significant negative trends in psychosocial maturity during adolescents but in adulthood, this trend changed toward positive trends in behavior. This trend change was more pronounced in females than in males.
The implications of this study were age and gender can alter Big Five personality traits. These changes were present across all domains as maturation seemed to impact the development of the individual. This research provides a means of viewing development from a point of maturation and how traits are impacted by aging. However, there were issues with the methodology of research as it was performed across the internet and was based on self-report of many changes in thinking and behavior (Soto, John, Gosling, & Potter, 2011). The large sample provides a strong argument for significance but more quantitative data is needed to validate the findings. As well, traits need to be studied independently in order to define specific changes in personality due to age-related factors.
Soto, C. J., John, O. P., Gosling, S. D., & Potter, J. (2011, February). Age differences in personality traits from 10 to 65: Big Five domains and facets in a large cross-sectional sample. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100(2), 330–348.
Specht, J., Egloff, B., & Schmukle, S. C. (2011, October). Stability and change of personality across the life course: The impact of age and major life events on mean-level and rank-order stability of the Big Five. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(4), 862–882.