A Surprising Look at the Personalities of Older Adults

How much does one’s personality develop over the course of a lifetime, and how do our personalities play into the types of situations and interactions we gravitate toward? Researchers recently attempted to gain insight into these types of questions.

In social psychology, personality-situation interactions refer to how individuals choose, modify, and decipher situations they encounter based on what are often considered to be more hard-wired personality traits. For example, more extroverted individuals are likely to actively pursue, and participate for greater durations of time, in social situations compared to more introverted individuals. However, until recently, these personality-situation interactions have been largely explored using samples of younger adults.

Although personality traits are relatively stable over shorter periods of time, researchers have found evidence that people’s personalities can and do change over longer intervals. With this in mind, one recent study examined 378 participants ranging in age from 14 to 82 over a period of three weeks.

The researchers initially hypothesized that personality-situation associations would likely increase in strength for older adults compared to younger participants, since they theorized that older adults tend to be increasingly selective with their goals, social interaction partners, and time spent due to encountering restricted resources and mobility. However, findings suggested that most personality-situation associations did not significantly vary with age—with one notable exception being that one’s level of “openness” was more strongly associated with “amount of time spent with friends” in older adults than in younger ones.

One explanation proffered by the researchers was that, for the most part, older adults know themselves better in later life. And, that even though, for example, one may know that they are highly conscientious and enjoy spending time doing individual work, older individuals may not always choose to act on their natural inclinations as much as their younger counterparts. In other words, although a highly conscientious older adult might be motivated to engage in work-related activities, they may also have learned that working takes away time from cultivating valuable social relationships and/or focusing on other aspects of their lives and well-being, that they may no longer want to neglect.


Wrus C, Wagner G G, and Riediger M. Personality-situation transactions from adolescence to old age. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (2016); 110: 782–799.

Self-Fulfilling ProphecyHow Perceptions of Aging Affect Our Later Years

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