You have probably heard that “people never really change”. That, for example, if someone is introverted as an adolescent, that they will never become extroverted. Or if someone is irritating and difficult when young, that they will always be. An intriguing Scottish study says this is not true, and that people can, and normally do, change their personality over the very long-term.
This is important if true, since many people may hold themselves back from pursing their dreams if they think they are stuck with certain characteristics. A person who is introverted may avoid applying for jobs demanding leadership. And other people may stick to their judgements of someone they knew as a child, when this child may have grown into a totally new and different person.
The research on personality
The study was published in Psychology and Aging and comes from the University of Edinburgh. It began in 1950. Researchers at that time enrolled 1208 volunteer schoolchildren all aged 14 years. Their teachers were asked to rate them on six personality characteristics: self-confidence, perseverance, mood stability, conscientiousness, originality, and desire to learn.
Then, 62 years later, the same children were sought out and the ones who were found and agreed to participate again (172 individuals, about half men and half women) had their personalities re-evaluated. This time the participants rated their own personalities on the same six characteristics. And, to increase confidence that their self-ratings were accurate, the researchers asked a relative or close friend of the person to also rate their personality.
The results after 62 years
The results surprised the researchers, because it showed that there was very little correlation between the personality ratings comparing the same person when young and then when old. Most of the people had changed significantly over the years—some had completely transformed. The two characteristics that least changed over the years was mood stability and conscientiousness.
Differs from previous studies
The Scottish authors note that most previous studies of personality have shown that personalities are relatively stable over the years. However, the difference is that these studies were all shorter-term studies. They measured changes over only a couple decades, such as from childhood to middle-age, or from middle to old age.
The current study covered many more years than any previous personality studies, and the Scottish authors conclude that since personality changes occur gradually, many years are needed to see significant differences.
What this means for you
The study shows that you can and will change over time, so you should not be held back by what type of person you were as an adolescent. Be optimistic about your own capacity for growth. Use that potential to help grow into the person you want to be. Your past is past.
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