Do the Big Five personality traits change over time?

This blog post aims to answer the question, “Do the Big Five personality traits change over time?” and explore the Big Five personality traits, their significance in understanding personality, and how it impacts people and evolves over time to help understand the answer. 

Do the Big Five personality traits change over time?

Yes, the Big Five personality traits change over time. Over time, personality tends to “improve.” It’s known as the “maturity principle” by psychologists. As people become older, they become more extraverted, emotionally stable, pleasant, and conscientious. These changes are frequently noticeable over time.

The Big Five personality traits change over time in the following 7 ways – 

  • Personality changes gradually over time.
  • Neuroticism decreases.
  • Openness decreases.
  • Extraversion increases.
  • Conscientiousness increases.
  • Agreeableness increases.
  • Disorders alter personality.

These 7 ways in which the Big Five personality traits change over time will be discussed in further detail below after taking a look at what the Big Five personality traits mean.

What are the Big Five personality traits? 

We’re all a mix of extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism, according to the Big Five theory of personality. Each personality feature is represented on a scale, so you can be more or less pleasant, for example –

  • A person who is extraverted is gregarious and enjoys having fun; a person who is less extraverted is reserved and silent.
  • A kind, trustworthy, and helpful individual is agreeable; a suspicious and uncooperative one is not.
  • A more open person likes routine and focuses on practical things rather than art or abstractions; a less open person prefers routine and focuses on practical things rather than art or abstractions.
  • A conscientious person is structured, cautious, and responsible; a less conscientious person is unorganised, impetuous, and easily distracted.
  • A neurotic person is nervous, pessimistic, and unstable; a less neurotic person is calm, cheery, and stable.

What are these 7 ways the Big Five personality traits change over time?

Personality changes gradually over time.

According to several studies, as people become older, they become more pleasant, conscientious, and emotionally robust. However, rather than days or weeks, these changes likely to occur across years or decades. Changes in personality that occur suddenly and dramatically are uncommon.

“We know that personality change can happen, that it normally happens gradually, and that it’s usually for the better,” says personality researcher Christopher Soto. However, we do not yet have a complete understanding of the reasons for personality change.”

According to a previous study, while your personality may vary over time, you’re more likely to compare well to persons in your age group. So, even if you’re not as strict as you once were, you’re probably still more disciplined than many of your contemporaries.

However, this isn’t the case for everyone. “People develop differently on different qualities,” the researchers said in their newest study, “personality is not stable for everyone over the lifetime (but is for some people), and accounting for or understanding these changes is challenging.”

While many individuals believe that their personalities are set in childhood, the current study reveals that most people’s personalities change throughout time. A study done at the University of California, Berkeley, and published recently in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology revealed personality changes in men and women after the age of 30. (Vol. 84, No. 5).

The researchers looked at general life span changes in the “Big Five” personality traits—conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness, and extraversion—using data from 132,515 persons aged 21 to 60.

According to main researcher and psychologist Sanjay Srivastava, PhD, “one of the primary theories of personality claims that personality characteristics are primarily defined by genetics, and, as a result, changes in personality traits should decelerate when other functions of maturation slow.” “We set out to put that to the test.”

Neuroticism decreases.

A new study based on data from 60,000 people in the United States, the Netherlands, Sweden, Scotland, and Germany confirms previous studies that at the age of 60, most of us get less neurotic and more optimistic until we reach old age.

The study used data from 16 research to explore correlations between personality changes and age and gender. Despite the variances between the investigations, there were clear trends.

Neuroticism, or the tendency to be nervous and gloomy, dropped during much of adulthood, especially in women, before rising again as we become older and people around us start to die.

All of the participants had to answer questions that measured the Big Five personality characteristics, as defined by psychology theory. The key is that the volunteers had to answer the questions three times in order to disclose changes over time.

“When people talk about the ‘Big Five,’ neuroticism is probably the most significant sex difference—been it’s proven previously,” Srivastava adds. According to Srivastava, the gap in neuroticism is only noticeable in childhood and young adulthood, and it narrows as people get older.

Openness decreases.

A study found that openness remained consistent through middle adulthood, but it declined in our final years. 

Srivastava found that openness decreased somewhat in both men and women with time, indicating a decreased interest in forging new relationships and maybe implying a higher desire to spend time with a limited number of well-known family and friends as individuals age.

Extraversion increases.

A previous study has shown that as we grow into our positions, developing careers, families, and other relationships, our extraversion and conscientiousness grow from 21 to 60. 

Both extraversion and conscientiousness rapidly slipped past 60 in the latest study, indicating that you are freer to follow your own whims and comfortable alone.

Conscientiousness increases.

Conscientiousness, a feature characterised by order and discipline and connected to career and relationship performance, was shown to increase across the age groups investigated, with the biggest change occurring in a person’s twenties. 

Agreeableness increases.

The feature of agreeableness, which is linked to being pleasant, kind, and helpful, defied the popular belief that personalities don’t change after 30. People in the research, on the other hand, exhibited the greatest improvement in agreeableness throughout their 30s and continued to improve into their 60s. 

This occurred even among men, debunking the stereotype of “grumpy elderly guys,” according to Srivastava. Srivastava believes that the amounts of development in these two attributes “seem to mimic what would make sense given adult duties.” 

“Agreeableness changes most in your 30s when you’re starting a family and need to be caring,” says the author. “Conscientiousness rises as individuals develop and become better at managing their jobs and relationships.”

Except for neuroticism and extraversion, in which young women scored higher than young males, most of the observed personality changes were usually similar across gender lines. The disparity between males and women, on the other hand, has narrowed with time.

Disorders alter personality.

There is evidence that a disaster may alter a person’s personality, turning an outgoing and less neurotic individual reclusive and worried. Dementia, addiction, and mental illness are all serious disorders that can alter one’s personality and conduct. For example, drunkenness can lead to melancholy and abusive behaviour over time.

Feeling content with your life, on the other hand, may promote certain personality traits. When things are going well in your life, you may find yourself becoming more affable, conscientious, emotionally stable, and—perhaps unexpectedly—introverted. When you’re happy, you may become more self-contained and less communicative.

Conclusion – 

This blog post aimed to answer the question, “Do the Big Five personality traits change over time?” and reviewed the Big Five personality traits, their significance in understanding personality, and how it impacts people and evolves over time to help determine if the Big Five personality traits change over time. Please feel free to reach out to us with any questions or comments you may have.

References –

Whitcomb, I.  Does your personality change as you get older? (2020, August 23). Retrieved from  https://www.livescience.com/personality-age-change.html#:~:text=Personality%20tends%20to%20get%20%22better,these%20changes%20are%20often%20pronounced.

Kersting, K. Personality changes for the better with age. (2003, July/August). Retrieved from  https://www.apa.org/monitor/julaug03/personality

Ehrenfeld, T. How Personality Traits May Change Over Time. (2021, January 18). Retrieved from  https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/open-gently/202101/how-personality-traits-may-change-over-time

Personality changes. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (2022, March 10). Retrieved from  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personality_changes

Suttie, J. Can Your Personality Change Over Your Lifetime? (2018, October 15). Retrieved from  https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/can_your_personality_change_over_your_lifetime

Soto, C. Personality Can Change Over A Lifetime, And Usually For The Better. (2016, June 30). Retrieved from  https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/06/30/484053435/personality-can-change-over-a-lifetime-and-usually-for-the-better

Donnellan, M. B., & Lucas, R. E. (2008). Age differences in the Big Five across the life span: evidence from two national samples. Psychology and aging, 23(3), 558–566. Retrieved from  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2562318/

Cherry, K. The Big Five Personality Traits. (2021, February 20). Retrieved from  https://www.verywellmind.com/the-big-five-personality-dimensions-2795422

Stieger, M. et al. Changing personality traits with the help of a digital personality change intervention. (2021, February 8). Retrieved from  https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.2017548118

Is it possible to change one’s “big five” personality traits? Quora. (n.d.). Retrieved from  https://www.quora.com/Is-it-possible-to-change-ones-big-five-personality-traits

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