After taking one of those personality trait tests, many have wondered do our personalities change through life or stay essentially the same? For researchers this has been an extremely difficult question to answer because of the challenge of testing the same group of individuals over many years. However in a new study, led by Eileen Graham at Northwestern University,researchers have combined data from 14 previously published longitudinal studies involving 50,000 participants from the US, Europe and Scandinavia. Their findings confirm that in fact our personality does change over time.
Combining data from all the studies showed that four of the five main personality traits showed statistically significant change over the life course, which contradicts William James’ famous assertion that personality is set like plaster after age 30.
The overall trend was for traits to decline across the lifespan by about 1-2 per cent per decade, such that participants became, on average, more emotionally stable, but generally less outgoing, less open-minded, and less orderly and self-disciplined. Thus the researchers concludes, “that neuroticism, extraversion, conscientiousness, and openness go down over time, while agreeableness remains relatively stable.” This is fairly consistent with the previously described effect of how we change later in life to having fewer responsibilities.