Personality is a set of characteristics that vary from person to person and tend to predict a set pattern of behavior across different situations. Researchers usually break personality down into five major categories: agreeableness, extraversion, neuroticism, openness to experience, and conscientiousness.
- Agreeable people tend to be nice, cooperative, sympathetic, trustworthy, and friendly.
- Extraverts tend to be people who are sociable, talkative, positive, who have high energy and like to engage with others.
- Neurotic people tend to be anxious, fearful, moody, jealous, lonely, and worried.
- People who are open to experience tend to be curious, imaginative, appreciate art and beauty, and need variety in life.
- Conscientious people tend to be organized, reliable, efficient, self-disciplined, and hard-working.
Personality is a fairly stable characteristic, but there is evidence that personality can change over the course of life. Most researchers will agree that in childhood and young adulthood, personality is more flexible and can be influenced by life experience. Most say that personality becomes more stable after the age of thirty, but there is research showing that normal aging is related to decreases in neuroticism, and increases in agreeableness and conscientiousness (Srivastava, John, Gosling, & Potter, 2003).
One possible reason why personality might change is social roles. A person may need certain characteristics to succeed in certain roles – for instance, one might need to be sociable and engage with customers to succeed in a sales job, or might need to exhibit emotional stability in order to make a romantic relationship work. Throughout the course of people’s lives, they may eventually come to take on the qualities of a particular role, so that the salesperson eventually becomes more extraverted, and the person in the stable relationship becomes less neurotic.
A study by Scollon & Diener (2006) attempted to look at model by testing if changes in satisfaction with work and relationships were related to changes in personality. Through looking at changes in satisfaction within each individual, they eliminated the possibility that extraverted people take socially oriented jobs or that neurotic people tend not to have as satisfying relationships. They focused mainly on the personality traits of extraversion and neuroticism through a longitudinal study of 1,130 people over the course of eight years, re-measuring the variables every two years, for a total of five times. They found that increases in an individual’s work and relationship satisfaction predicted decreased neuroticism. Increases in work satisfaction predicted increase in an individual’s extraversion, and increase in relationship satisfaction also showed increases in extraversion, but this finding was only marginally significant. More interestingly, these results were found across all age groups, not just in people under 30.
Now, this does not mean that the person who enjoys being alone will change into the life of the party, rather, all it means is that a person slightly shifts to being more extroverted. However, even small changes can make a huge difference, especially with neuroticism which predicts many negative health outcomes. So, while personality is relatively stable, it is nice to know that it is not necessarily set in stone.
Scollon, C.N., Diender, E., (2006). Love, work, and changes in extraversion and neuroticism over time. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91(6), 1152-1165.
Srivastava, S., John, O.P., Gosling, S.D., & Potter, J. (2003). Development of personality in early and middle adulthood: Set like plaster or persistent change? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 1041-1053.