Does neuroticism decrease with age? (3 insights)

This blog post aims to answer the question, “Does neuroticism decrease with age?” by exploring the concept of neuroticism and how it manifests over time with the help of various studies.

Does neuroticism decrease with age?

Yes, neuroticism decreases with age. The following are 3 insights into how neuroticism decreases with age –

  • Personality changes gradually over time.
  • Neuroticism decreases.
  • Neuroticism remains steady in old age.

What are these  3 insights into how neuroticism decreases with age?

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.

Neuroticism remains steady in old age.

Neuroticism is rather steady following emergence in childhood, according to Barlow et al. (2014), before demonstrating modest age-related declines that continue until old age.

Another study based on data from the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam indicated that neuroticism is mostly steady throughout middle and elder age, with a little rise in late life.

Neuroticism was marginally adversely related to age in the BHPS [British Household Panel Study] and slightly favourably associated with age in the GSEOP [German Socio-Economic Panel Study], according to Donnellan and Lucas (2008).

A study that aimed to compare the variability of the Big Five Personality traits among elderly and adults, as well as investigate the role of socio-demographic variables (age, education, economic status, gender, and marital status) on their personality factors, discovered that adults (30-59 years old) were more likely than the elderly group (60-85 years old) to obtain high Neuroticism scores (Milojev & Sibley, 2016). 

As a result, the 30-59 age group is associated with an increased risk of anxiety, self-criticism, and impulsivity (Nostro, Müller, Reid, & Eickhoff, 2016).

Concerning adaptability and emotional instability, neuroticism includes traits such as worry, anxiety, insecurity, and stress (Costa & McCrae) (2010). Negative emotions such as fear, sadness, humiliation, rage, guilt, and grief are included in this Factor. 

As a result, younger people are likely to experience these feelings more frequently. One theory proposed to explain this observation was that neuroticism would decline as people age. Individuals’ levels of neuroticism tend to rise, especially in young adulthood, between the ages of 20 and 40, whereas elderly persons tend to have lower scores (Roberts et al., 2006). 

Agreeableness and Conscientiousness grow with age, but Neuroticism decreases (Costa & McCrae, 2006). Previous research has found that as people become older, they become more emotionally stable and capable of controlling their emotions (Soto, John, Gosling, and Potter, 2011); Roberts, Walton, and Viechtbauer, 2011). 

Personality traits evolve throughout a person’s life, with changes ranging from childhood to old age (Helson, Jones, & Kwan, 2002; Helson & Kwan, 2000; Roberts & Mroczek, 2008; Roberts et al., 2006; Srivastava, John, Gosling, & Potter, 2003). 

These alterations are most likely the result of inherent maturation processes (McCrae & Terracciano, 2005) or specialised adaptations to changes that occur during the life cycle. According to the findings of this study, persons aged 30-59 years were more likely to have a high Neuroticism score.

The topic of whether personality evolves at a later age has been debated in personality research over the past three decades. 

According to some experts, a person’s personality is fully established by the time they reach the age of 30 and becomes increasingly stable throughout time (Costa & McCrae, 1988, 1994; Costa et al., 2000; Glenn, 1980; Martin, Long, & Poon, 2002; Roberts & Del Vecchio, 2000). 

Other studies believe that personality is malleable as a result of environmental factors and compensatory behavioural changes as a result of biological ageing (Alwin, 1994; Baltes, Staudinger, & Lindenberger, 1999; Caspi & Roberts, 1999; Heatherton & Nichols, 1994; Roberts, 1997).

In general, there are two approaches to studying personality stability (Costa 

& McCrae, 1994): stability of mean levels, which is used to estimate aggregate level changes in personality with age, and stability as an individual-differences phenomenon, which assumes that some people change while others remain stable (Cattell, 1950, 1966; Mroczek & Spiro, 2003). 

The invariance of neuroticism in late age is highlighted by a significant corpus of longitudinal studies on mean-level alterations (Costa & McCrae, 1980, 1990, 1994; Martin et al., 2002; Smith & Baltes, 1999; Watson & Clark, 1984). Recent findings, however, imply that modifications can be noticed in old age (Small, Hertzog, Hultsch, & Dixon, 2003).

Mroczek and Spiro (2003) observed that neuroticism varies significantly with age in recent research. Over the course of the study, younger elderly people and males who had just undergone a life event exhibited a significant decrease in neuroticism.

Neuroticism is a prominent personality characteristic (Eysenck, 1990) and one of the most well-known dimensions in the “Big Five” personality dimensions (Eysenck, 1990). (Costa & McCrae, 1994). 

According to research, late-life personality, particularly neuroticism, is highly linked to mental and physical health, social support, self-rated health, and functional limits (Duberstein et al., 2003; Hooker, Monahan, Bowman, Frazier, & Shifren, 1998; Siegler & Brummett, 2000; Smith & Gallo, 2001; Watson & Tellegen, 1985). 

As a result, age-related decreases in physical health and everyday functioning may have an impact on the relationship between ageing and neuroticism. These characteristics are thought to influence individual neuroticism trajectories in an ageing population.

The study’s general conclusion is that, for the most part, neuroticism remains rather constant as people become older; among those who do change, the degree of change is unaffected by the physical and cognitive declines associated with ageing. There was no significant relationship between the age group and neuroticism mean score.

Furthermore, age did not appear to be a factor in the amount of neuroticism. Thus, the study found no significant connection between ageing and neuroticism at a cross-sectional level, showing that mean neuroticism levels are stable. 

The study found that the neuroticism score remained stable throughout time. These coefficients were identical to those published elsewhere, implying that the stability assumption is correct (Costa & McCrae, 1988).

Therefore, neuroticism seems to be stable in old age. Age has no significant relationship with neuroticism in cross-sectional analysis. The size of the stability coefficient is large, which is consistent with studies supporting the stability hypothesis (Costa & McCrae, 1988, 1994); 12 per cent of older people demonstrate clinically significant changes. 

Finally, the statistically significant longitudinal change cannot be regarded as clinically important (Drenth, 1972; Jacobsen & Truax, 1991; Lipsey & Wilson, 1993). Individual variations in physical health-related factors had little effect on individual differences in late-life neuroticism change.

In conclusion, neuroticism appears to be quite stable in old age. Despite the fact that the study discovered significant individual variations in trajectories, it was unable to explain these disparities by a late-life rise in physical sickness and related functional restrictions.

Conclusion – 

This blog post attempted to answer the question, “Does neuroticism decrease with age?” by reviewing the concept of neuroticism and how it manifests over time with the help of various studies. Please feel free to reach out to us with any questions or comments you may have.

References –

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/#:~:text=Average%20levels%20of%20Neuroticism%20generally,and%20linear%20association%20with%20age.

Bas Steunenberg, Jos W. R. Twisk, Aartjan T. F. Beekman, Dorly J. H. Deeg, Ad J. F. M. Kerkhof, Stability and Change of Neuroticism in Aging, The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, Volume 60, Issue 1, January 2005, Pages P27–P33. Retrieved from 

https://academic.oup.com/psychsocgerontology/article/60/1/P27/617634

Kersting, K. Personality changes for the better with age. (July/August 2003). Retrieved from 

https://www.apa.org/monitor/julaug03/personality

Young, E. Here’s How Our Personality Changes As We Age. (2020, June 30). Retrieved from 

https://digest.bps.org.uk/2020/06/30/heres-how-our-personality-changes-as-we-age/

Gorvett, Z. How your personality changes as you age. (2020, March 16). Retrieved from 

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200313-how-your-personality-changes-as-you-age

Personality Is Not Set By 30; It Can Change Throughout Life. American Psychological Association. ScienceDaily. (2003, May 13). Retrieved from 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/05/030513075924.htm

Turiano, N. A. et al. Is Healthy Neuroticism Associated with Longevity? A Coordinated Integrative Data Analysis. (2020, July 21). Retrieved from 

https://online.ucpress.edu/collabra/article/6/1/33/114445/Is-Healthy-Neuroticism-Associated-with-Longevity-A

Gonzatti, V. et al. Personality factors in adults and the elderly: a comparative study. (2017). Retrieved from  http://pepsic.bvsalud.org/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1677-04712017000300002 

Does neuroticism decline with age? Stack Exchange Inc. (2021, February 24). Retrieved from https://psychology.stackexchange.com/questions/26679/does-neuroticism-decline-with-age 

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