FAQs about Personality Development
We have been studying personality development for almost 3 decades now. Rather than plaguing you with too much verbiage in this site, I will plague you with writings that address basic questions that we’ve tried to answer along the way.
What is personality?
Like all definitional questions, this one is timeless and somewhat unanswerable. Instead of a comprehensive answer, I’ve offered up a model that I use because, well, I’ve found it to be useful. I call I the neo-socioanalytic model of personality which pays homage to Hogan’s socioanalytic model. The latter is a good model, but fails to address questions of development and therefore, needed some tweaking to work for my purposes.
You can read about it in the following papers:
Roberts, B.W., & Wood, D. (2006). Personality development in the context of the Neo-Socioanalytic Model of personality (Chapter 2, pp. 11-39). In D. Mroczek & T. Little (Eds.), Handbook of Personality Development. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrance Erlbaum Associates.
Roberts, B.W., Wood, D, & Caspi, A. (2008). The development of personality traits in adulthood. In O.P. John, R.W. Robins, & L. A. Pervin (Eds.), Handbook of personality: theory and research (3rd edition, Ch 14, pp. 375-398). New York, NY: Guilford.
Roberts, B.W., & Nickel, L. (in press). A critical evaluation of the Neo-Socioanalytic Model of personality. In J. Specht (Ed.), Personality Development Across the Life Span (Chapter 11). Elsevier.
Roberts, B.W., & Damian, R.I. (in press). The principles of personality trait development and their relation to psychopathology. In D. Lynam & D. Samuel (Eds.), Using basic personality research to inform the personality disorders. Oxford Press.
Briefly, the neo-socioanalytic model identifies four domains of personality—traits, motives, abilities, and narratives. These four domains can be accessed via self-reports (identity) or observer reports (reputation) and they are influence by both genetics and environments with social roles being the primary environments of interest for development.
How is personality different from personality traits?
People often conflate the two domains. Some people use the term “personality” when they mean “personality trait” and others don’t feel that the field of personality goes beyond the study of personality traits. I feel otherwise. Traits, meaning the Big Five or Big Six, are a subcategory of personality. The broader term should be all encompassing—referring to all of the major domains of individual differences that distinguish people from one another.
Speaking of traits, what is the sociogenomic model of personality traits and how is it the same and or different from the neo-socioanalytic model?
Well, staying focused has never been a strong suit. The sociogenomic model of personality traits is a theory about the way personality traits come about that uses a recent theory from evolutionary biology as a basis–sociogenomics. So, technically, it is a sub-domain/theory within the neo-socioanalytic model. If you’d like to read more about the sociogenomic model these papers would suffice:
Roberts, B. W. (under review). A revised sociogenomic model of personality traits. Journal of Personality.
Okay, so now I know the what question, how about the how question. How does personality develop?
Glad you asked. First, let me start with a caveat. Most of our work has focused on how personality traits develop in adulthood rather than childhood. Why? Well, first, it’s interesting. Most of the really important things that happen to people happen to them when they are adults—careers, relationships, children. What’s not to like? Second, its risky—at least conceptually. Many people consider traits in adulthood to be essentially fixed. Many researchers believe the other domains (sans IQ) change rapidly and easily. If we find that personality traits continue to develop in adulthood, that violates not only expectations, but most of the theories that guide our research in psychology. That makes the study of personality trait development doubly interesting.
Now let me state a simple fact that complicates the question immensely. There are numerous statistical ways of answering the question. As a result, there is no simple answer about personality development. So, if you are looking for a soundbite, sorry you won’t find it here.
What have we found?
- Personality traits exhibit robust rank-order consistency across time. This means that relative to your friends, you will most likely be the introvert or extravert 10 years from now too. This does not mean that personality does not change, just that there is a consistent signal in personality both in how you see yourself and in how others see you
Ferguson, C. J. (2010). A meta-analysis of normal and disordered personality across the life span. Journal of personality and social psychology, 98(4), 659.
- Motivational variables, like vocational interests, are just as stable as personality traits, if not more so at an earlier age:
Low, D. K., S., Yoon, M., Roberts, B.W., & Rounds. J. (2005). The stability of interests from early adolescence to middle adulthood: A quantitative review of longitudinal studies. Psychological Bulletin, 131, 713-737.
- Personality traits show marked increases in putatively positive directions primarily in young adulthood, but not in adolescence. And, personality traits continue to change in middle and old age.
Roberts, B.W., Walton, K. & Viechtbauer, W. (2006). Patterns of mean-level change in personality traits across the life course: A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Psychological Bulletin, 132, 1-25.
Göllner, R., Roberts, B.W., Damian, R.I., Lüdtke, O., Jonkmann, K., & Trautwein, U. (in press). Whose “storm and stress” is it? Parent and child reports of personality development in the transition to early adolescence. Journal of Personality.
Why do personality traits change?
There are many consistent correlates of personality trait change including work experiences, relationship experiences, changes in health, and especially changes in satisfaction with the way life is going:
Roberts, B.W., & Bogg, T. (2004). A 30-year longitudinal study of the relationships between conscientiousness-related traits, and the family structure and health-behavior factors that affect health. Journal of Personality, 72, 325-354.
Hill, P.L., Turiano, N.A., Mroczek, D.K., & Roberts, B.W. (2012). Examining concurrent and longitudinal relations between personality traits and social well-being in adulthood. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3, 698-705.
Takahashi, Y., Edmonds, G.E., Jackson, J.J., & Roberts, B.W. (2013). Longitudinal correlated changes in conscientiousness, preventative health-related behaviors, and self-perceived physical health. Journal of Personality, 81, 417-427.
Can you change personality traits?
The tentative answer to this question is yes. According to our latest review of the clinical literature, it appears that therapists have been successfully changing personality traits in their therapy sessions for the last several decades: