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Personality Changes Throughout Life
from NewScientist.com news service (11 May 03)

People's personalities are not set in stone by the
age of 30, contrary to popular and professional beliefs,
new research suggests.

In fact, the old adage about people becoming wiser with age
may hold some truth, according to the US study, which
examined five major personality traits.

Sanjay Srivastava and colleagues surveyed over 130,000

people on key personality traits known as the "Big Five":
conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism (emotionality),
openness and extraversion. These traits are not dependent on
factors like mood, says Srivastava, now a psychologist at
Stanford University, California.

Many psychologists believe these five key characteristics are
fundamentally genetic and do not change or change only slowly
after 30. But the research suggests that not only do people

continue to change after this milestone, but in some ways they
change more.

"We found a mixture of different patterns of how people change,"
Srivastava told New Scientist. "On average people were getting
better at dealing with the ups and downs of life. In particular,

they were more responsive and more caring [with age]."

Work and family

The team assessed the five key traits in people aged between
21-60 on the Internet using standard psychological tests.
These included personality tests such as "Find your Star Wars
twin." They compared results to other non-Internet studies in
college students to ensure that their results were
representative.

The team found that neuroticism (emotionality) decreased with

age for women but not men. Openness also declined slightly
with age for both sexes.

They also found that people tended to show a spurt in
conscientiousness - which involves the ability to deal with tasks

and organization - in their twenties. Agreeability, which
encompasses affection and warmth, improved on average in
most people's thirties.

Srivastava, who led the study while at the University of

California, Berkeley, said the team thought changes in
conscientiousness and agreeability might map onto changes
in work and family.

"In their twenties people are typically entering into the world

and rapidly advancing, also they are making commitments in
their personal life," he said. "Agreeability coincides with when
people are having families."

Chicken and egg

However, the way in which this happens presents a chicken
and egg scenario, says Srivastava. "There could be socially
prompted changes where a person changes to keep up with
the world around them. Or you could also imagine people's
personalities developing to allow them to take on those roles."

For this reason, he says it is difficult to establish the balance
between nature and nurture in developing personality.

Srivastava's team is now planning further work to follow the
development of personality in individuals over time.

Journal reference: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (vol 84 p 1041)



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