63-year Study Reveals How Personality Changes With Age

March 29, 2017 Richard Justenhoven
image age and personality

Adolescent and Older Age: the Same Personality?

The world’s longest-ever study into human character has been undertaken by researchers at Edinburgh University. Spanning 63 years, it shows that there is little relationship between the personality traits that individuals have as adolescents and those they have in their golden years.

The study, published by Psychology and Aging, began in 1947 when teachers were asked to assess the characteristics of 1,208 14-year olds in Scotland. In 2012, 174 of these participants took part in a follow-up study which assessed the same characteristics: self-confidence, perseverance, stability of mood, conscientiousness, originality and desire to excel. With the exception of ‘conscientiousness’ and ‘stability of mood’, which had a low positive correlation, there was no link between any of the other traits.

Broadly, the research indicates that adolescents become less conscientious, more impulsive, more willing to take risks and seek adventure, more moody and irritable, and more social for a few years. Then they reverse those trends as they move into adulthood.

Their jobs and then parenthood tend to accentuate the trend toward general maturity and a more stable mood. In older age, people tend to become more accepting of themselves. But there are some large individual differences in these patterns, depending on the different aspects of each person’s life.

Previous studies have demonstrated that personality is subject to a lifelong series of relatively small changes, particularly in adolescence and early adulthood and continuing into older age.  As a result of this gradual change, personality can appear relatively stable over periods of time, especially during adulthood. However, the longer the interval between two assessments of personality, the weaker the relationship tends to be between the two.

Personality questionnaires will remain an important element of recruitment and development processes, as employers want to predict which candidates in their applicant pool will ‘fit’ their organisation and be strong performers. Research has shown that personality does remain relatively stable in the years between youth and old age. However, it is always important to benchmark the personality of your candidates against an established norm group with your personality questionnaire.

This is particularly true if you’re recruiting young apprentices. Their personality results should be benchmarked against others from the same age group. That way, you’ll compare how their traits match against their peers, rather than unfairly comparing them with the personalities of more mature employees in your organisation.

About the Author

Richard Justenhoven

Richard Justenhoven is the product development director within Aon's Assessment Solutions. A leading organizational psychologist, Richard is an acknowledged expert in the design, implementation and evaluation of online assessments and a sought after speaker about such topics.

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