How 5 Personality Traits Change With Age

Conventional wisdom has long held that our personalities--largely governed by five key characteristics dubbed "The Big Five"--are genetic and pretty much set in stone by the time we turn 30. That may not be true.

After conducting an online study of 130,000 people aged 21 to 60, researchers at Stanford University, led by Sanjay Srivastava, say those key personality characteristics change throughout our lives.

"The Big Five" personality characteristics that are not dependent on mood are:
Conscientiousness
Agreeableness
Neuroticism
Openness
Extroversion

So how do we change with age? "We found a mixture of different patterns of how people change," Srivastava told New Scientist. "On average people were getting better at dealing with the ups and downs of life. In particular they were more responsive and more caring [with age]."

This is how our personalities tend to change with age:

  • Conscientiousness: Our ability to handle tasks and our organizational skills grow dramatically in our 20s and continue to improve as we age. The initial growth in our 20s is likely due to new work and family commitments.

  • Agreeableness: Our warmth, generosity, and helpfulness make the biggest improvement in our 30s and 40s; like conscientiousness, changes in agreeableness are probably due to new work and family commitments.

  • Neuroticism: Worry and our sense of instability actually decrease with age for women--but not for men.

  • Openness: Our desire to try new experiences declines slightly with age for both genders.

  • Extroversion: Our need to seek social support declines slightly for women as they age, but changes little in men.

What's the takeaway? On average, we get better as we get older. We care more about work, family, and our responsibilities. At the same time, we become less open to meeting new people. Women, but not men, worry less and as they age. "People are getting better at things as they age," Srivastava told Reuters. "They're not becoming grumpy old men."

The study findings, which are considered quite controversial, were published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Paul Costa Jr., a researcher with the National Institute on Aging who has done pioneering work with the ''big five'' model, told USA Today that he is critical of the study. Instead of major personality changes after age 30, he thinks we only see ''nuanced'' changes.

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