Personality is a set of characteristics that many of us assume is relatively stable and constant over time. Recent research, however, questions this premise with respect to older adults. Specifically, a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology this year examined change in personality of roughly 23,000 participants ranging in age from 15 to 79 from Germany and Austria over a four-year period. One of the authors’ most notable findings was that personality was comparatively less consistent across time for older adults than it was for every other age group. So, although personality may not change drastically or quickly while we are young, the aging process may lead to changes in one’s persona in late life.
This new finding is not as unexpected as one might assume, given that historically, the vast majority of personality studies have not adequately sampled from older adult populations. Indeed, studies that examine individuals over 30 years of age are hard to come by. What’s more, prior studies have not questioned whether maturation of personality observed during adolescence continues in late life. The authors found that it wasn’t until later in life that personality started to show changes again; middle-aged participants still displayed very stable traits across time within their sample.
In sum, much more research needs to be done to decipher exactly how and why personality begins to change again in late life. But, at least with respect to growing old, we can look forward to continued growth of the self even when our physical form is moving in the other direction.
Sprecht J, Luhmann M and Geiser C. On the consistency of personality types across adulthood: Latent profile analyses in two large-scale panel studies. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology (2014); 107: 540–556.