Are you the same person at 66 as you were at 16? Probably not. At the same time, we don't change as much as you might think – or might like – either. That's according to a study recently published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
"Our findings suggest that personality has a stable component across the lifespan, both at the trait level and at the profile level, and that personality is also malleable and people mature as they age," the study authors wrote.
You may have heard of the "Big Five" personality test, which is considered by many to be one of the most accurate barometers of personality available at the moment. Each of us fits somewhere on a scale of five personality traits: extraversion, openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and neuroticism; and it's your unique combination of these five traits that make up your character profile, whether that is the neurotic intellectual or the intrepid explorer. Indeed, your scores on the "Big Five" can predict all sorts of thoughts and behaviors from your music tastes to your tweets to your walk, to your sex life.
To find out how these traits fluctuate over a lifetime, researchers from the University of Houston, Texas, assessed the personality of 1,795 volunteers at 16 (when they were still in high school) and again, at 66. This is the first time researchers have studied personality over such a long period (50 years) using the same group of people from experiment start to experiment end.
The basic conclusion – Personality (aka your unique blend of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors) does change over time. What's more, it often changes in ways that are easy to predict. This means you can reasonably presume a 66-year-old will be more conscientious, more agreeable, and more emotionally stable than their adolescent self.
However, the ranking of personality traits remains fairly stable. So, someone who is more conscientious than their peers aged 16 will be more conscientious than their peers at 30, at 50, and at 70, etcetera. Likewise, someone who is more agreeable than average at 60 was almost certainly more agreeable than average aged 20.
The researchers point out that there does seem to be some variation from person to person in how much their personality changes over time – and whether or not it always changes for the better. The shift to agreeableness, conscientiousness, and emotional stability is a trend rather than an inevitability. This suggests that environment and experience (not just genetics) plays a significant role in how our personality develops as we age.
Want to find out how you score on the Big Five? Click here.