Do Our Personality Traits Change Over Time?

15 February, 2021
Personality is characterized by being stable over time. However, many of its traits evolve over the years. In this article, we'll explain why.

Personalities and personality traits are a psychological construct that has attracted the attention of numerous researchers throughout the history of psychology. It has generated multiple theories about it and, even to this day, there isn’t a unanimous consensus about it.

There are as many definitions of personality as there are authors who have studied it. In essence, we could describe it as the set of psychic characteristics that shape our way of thinking and acting.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at this fascinating topic.

Personality, temperament and character

The interaction between temperament and character determines our personality traits. Temperament is the innate part of the personality and is conditioned by genetics. It manifests itself earlier and is relatively stable over time.

On the other hand, more environmental aspects influence character and can be more easily transformed.

Thus, we can understand personality as an entity that’s stable over time but susceptible to change, either because of the circumstances experienced or because we consciously seek to change some aspect of it.

Also read: Narcissistic Personality Disorder

How do we change over the years?

We all evolve in some way throughout life. For example, a study at the University of Edinburgh looked at change in people when they were fourteen years old and sixty-three years later. The results, as expected, showed that there had been a very significant transformation in their personalities.

Personality traits aren’t fixed, but modulable. Even if we have a stable tendency, we can evolve and modify many aspects.

However, not all people change in the same way. The circumstances that each of us face are sometimes similar, but they can also be extremely different from those of the majority, and that will condition our personality in a very marked way.

On the other hand, there are people who tend to change more easily, either because of who they are, because of their experiences, or because they intend to transform some trait of their personality.

The five big dimensions of personality

Beyond great referents such as Cattell or Eysenck, McCrae and Costa proposed the Big Five model, one of the most widely used to classify the different personality traits.

In it we find five characteristics that lie on a continuum between two extremes:

  • Extraversion: At one pole are the most sociable and action-loving people, who like to be in contact with others. At the other are the more introverted and peace-loving people who enjoy more quiet time alone.
  • Openness to experience: At one extreme are people with a great imagination who are curious and original, and at the other, the more pragmatic, conventional, and traditional people.
  • Responsibility: This trait differentiates competent, organized and compliant people from those who are more informal and not very disciplined.
  • Kindness: This attribute distinguishes honest, altruistic and considerate people from unscrupulous, selfish and hostile people.
  • Neuroticism: On the negative pole are those who have a tendency to feel anxiety, depression and a low tolerance to stress. On the positive pole are people who are more emotionally stable and have a higher degree of calm and self-control.

If we analyze these traits in ourselves, we can see that some elements have remained stable over time. However, it’s easy for others to have modulated.

For example, it’s possible that we’ve become more responsible than when we were younger, or that thanks to maturity we’re more emotionally stable. Or, on the contrary, that, due to circumstances, our level of neuroticism has increased considerably.

A woman in distress.

Learn more about: How to Have a Positive Attitude in an Adverse Situation

How can I change my personality?

We all have aspects of our personality that we’d like to improve or even radically change. Faced with this situation, there’ll be those who justify themselves with the eternal “people don’t change”, and there’ll be those who want to get down to work but don’t know how.

For people in the second group, it’s essential to keep the following things in mind:

  • The most important thing is to want to change and, to do so, to be willing to do deep psychological work.
  • We must be realistic and set achievable goals, otherwise it’ll generate great frustration.
  • It’s easier to change when the objectives are clear and concrete. A good way is to situate where we are in the continuum and where we want to get to.
  • We must bear in mind that changes in personality traits are progressive. An extra dose of patience isn’t a bad thing.
  • A good plan will involve designing a strategy for the short, medium and long term. Identify what resources we need to develop at each stage.

More important tips about personality traits

  • If we have a reason for this change, it’ll be easier, especially when resistance to change arises.
  • A good strategy is to visualize in detail how we want to be and act as if we’ve already achieved the change.
  • If we’re determined and persistent, we’ll achieve our goal more easily.
  • Taking action will be the best way to gain security and confidence.
  • Replacing a pattern of behavior takes considerable effort. Even if it doesn’t work out as we expected, it’s important not to give up. Always remember we can improve over time.

Sometimes there are traits of our personality that harm us and we don’t know how to modify them. In these cases, consulting a psychologist is always a fantastic and helpful option.

  • Armero, M. (2018). Aprendiendo a vivir. Uno Editorial.
  • Harris, M., Brett, C., Johnson, W. Deary, I. (2016). Personality Stability From Age 14 to Age 77 Years. Psychology and Aging. 31(8): 862-874.
  • Ter Laak, J. (1996). Las cinco grandes dimensiones de la personalidad. Revista de Psicología de la PUCP. Vol.XIV. Nº2.