Turns Out Your Personality Will Change Completely Over Your Lifetime
Humans are quite fond of prescribing unique characteristics to ourselves. We’ve long held the belief that there’s one true version of ourselves that we need to spend our lives either holding onto or discovering. Countless books, movies and viral videos have been created on this very premise: that your sense of self is something to be found.
We also tend to assume that the personality traits we develop in our childhood and adolescence will stay with us for the rest of our life and that our teenage years are just the seed from which the rest of our trajectory grows. Honestly, it makes sense and not only because its quite a comforting thought.
Well, it turns out that these commonly held beliefs are actually very wrong.
The longest personality study ever conducted discovered that between the ages of 14 to 77-years-old, our personalities will change beyond recognition. The study began in 1950 by asking teachers to fill out six questionaires that would assess the personality traits of each student. These traits included perseverance, self-confidence, stability of mood, conscientiousness, desire to learn and originality. They also added a seventh personality trait, dependability, after assessing all the attributes of the original six.
Sixty years later, those same participants, at the mature age of 77-years-old, were asked to repeat the test along with the help of a close friend or relative. Turns out, there was not one correlation between the answers on the questionnaire taken at the age of 14 and the questionnaire taken at 77. The researchers wrote, “We hypothesized that we would find evidence of personality stability over an even longer period of 63 years, but our correlations did not support this hypothesis.”
Even the researchers were stumped! They were sure they would find similarities, too. But, as the evidence displayed, your 14-year-old self and 77-year-old self will be completely different people. Not just because one was into hardcore emo and the other has a penchant for decorative tea towels, either. It’s those deep-seated personality traits we mentioned earlier, and they extend well beyond general likes and dislikes.
It’s interesting to think of this study when you think about friends you have known for a long time or even a long term partner and how they have, or will, transform into another person eventually.
Complementing this research is an interesting podcast episode from season 2 of NPR’s Invisibilia. One of the hosts, Alix Spiegel, spends time visiting prisoners to determine whether or not their personality remained constant from the time they were admitted to the many years they have served. It’s a very compelling episode that sees Spiegel battle between an ethical dilemma of accepting that a person can change and yet knowing the horrific things they have done.
Just like our physical selves that are constantly developing and changing with the renewal of cells, our minds are evolving and changing too. There hasn’t been a conclusive study outlining why and how this happens to everybody. Although one study found you can specifically change your personality traits through persistence and goal setting. Another suggested that positive changes to your personality occur when you lead a more happier and fulfilled life.
But the incremental changes that we don’t see coming and build up over time, dropping and adding ingredients to the recipe of ourselves? They’re a mystery. It’s probably a mixture of a lot of different factors: the people you surround yourselves with, your career, your experiences, etc. But we’re just not sure for certain.
Josephine is a writer from western Sydney who likes to blatantly lie on her bios. She played the youngest sister in 80s sitcom Family Ties and looks fantastic running with a backpack on.