Does Personality Peak?

by Dish Staff

Christian Jarrett looks at research that finds “the stability of personality increases through youth, peaks in mid-life and then gradually reduces again into old age”:

The questionnaires measured the Big Five traits (extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience) and also an honesty-humility factor. The researchers then looked to see how the “rank-order stability” of people’s traits (how their scores ranked compared to other people’s) varied across that two-year gap, and how this stability varied as a function of age.

The participants’ personalities showed “impressive” stability, as you’d expect since personality is meant to be a description of people’s pervasive traits. Extraversion was the most stable trait, and agreeableness the least. However, the key finding was that personality stability varied through the lifespan, increasing from the 20s to the 40s and 50s, and then declining towards old age, up to age 80. This broad pattern was found for all traits, except for agreeableness, which showed gradually reduced stability through life. For conscientiousness, openness to experience, and honesty-humility, trait instability had returned at the oldest age to the levels seen at the youngest age.

For the five traits that showed an inverted U-shape pattern of changing stability through life, [researchers Peter] Milojev and [Chris] Sibley found that the specific point of peak stability varied – extraversion and neuroticism showed highest stability in the late 30s, while the other traits (openness, honesty-humility, and conscientiousness) showed peak stability in the late 40s, early 50s.