Are We Getting More Authentic with Age?

May 29, 2018 Richard Justenhoven
age and authenticity

Authentic. Honest. Being true to yourself.

Being authentic at work has become more talked about and seemingly more important as organisations seek to be more inclusive and diverse.

Authenticity – or being our true self – has been proven to have a positive effect on job satisfaction, performance and engagement (van den Bosch & Taris (2014))– and being authentic helps to cultivate loyalty and reliability, and demonstrate integrity.

Many of us believe we are simply becoming truer to our real selves as we get older and there are many easily-found top tips on ‘how to become more authentic’ to help us along. Elizabeth Seto and Rebecca Schlegel set out to discover if there is a general pattern in the way in which we think about the development of our ‘true selves’.

The research
Seto and Schlegel carried out two studies:

  • In the first study, 125 students were given a definition of ‘true self’ (Your TRUE SELF is made up of the characteristics, roles, or attributes that define who you really are – even if those characteristics are different than how you sometimes act in your daily life.). They were then asked about the degree of overlap between their true self and their self when they left school, their self today, and their self as they will be at the end of the current term.
  • A second study took place with 134 participants across a wider age range. They were asked to section up their lives (past, present and future) and to then rate how close to their true self they were, are or will be in each section.

In both studies Seto and Schlegel report a clear trend.

  • Participants see themselves as closer to their true self now than they were in the past.
  • That the closeness between ‘true self’ and actual self, is expected by participants to increase in the future.
  • There is a tapering effect; the largest increases in authenticity were seen in the near past, and in the near future.

It seems that we do have a tendency to see ourselves as becoming more authentic, honest and true as we move through life.

The researchers say that these findings are consistent with what we know about the psychology of self-enhancement. That is, we see our current selves in a positive light, are more negative about our past selves, and, because of perhaps unrealistic optimism, we think we’ll get even better going forward.

But these studies don’t answer look at whether people’s sense of authenticity really does vary through life; a longitudinal study would be needed.

Nonetheless, any focus on how we choose to behave, perceive the world around us and express ourselves is interesting – and important to look at when we are hiring or developing.


van den Bosch, R. & Taris, T.W. J Happiness Stud (2014) 15: 1. /> Elizabeth Seto & Rebecca J. Schlegel (2017) Becoming your true self: Perceptions of authenticity across the lifespan, Self and Identity, 17:3, 310-326, DOI: 10.1080/15298868.2017.1322530

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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