Can a Leopard Change its Spots?
It has long been believed that people can’t change their personalities, but a review of recent research in personality science shows that personality traits can change through persistent intervention and major transformative life events.
The ‘Big 5’ personality traits – neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness – have long been used to predict a person’s life outcome, yet researchers now believe these qualities can change over time.
This new belief is the product of the Personality Change Consortium, an international group of researchers committed to advancing understanding of personality change.
The researchers said that “strong evidence” suggests that personality traits are broad enough to account for a wide range of socially important behaviors at levels that surpass known predictors and that they can change, especially if you catch people at the right age and exert sustained effort.
However, these traits also remain relatively stable; thus while they can change, they are not easy to change.
Why focus on personality traits?
Research has found that a relatively small number of personality traits can account for most of the ways in which people differ from one another.
Thus, they are related to a wide range of important life outcomes.
These traits are also relatively stable, but changeable with effort and good timing.
This combination — broad and enduring, yet changeable — makes them particularly promising targets for large-scale interventions.
Both neuroticism and conscientiousness, for example, may represent good intervention targets in young adulthood, and certain interventions — especially those that require persistence and long-term commitment — may be more effective among conscientious, emotionally stable people.
It is also important to consider motivational factors, as success is more likely if people are motivated and think change is feasible, researchers said.
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