Mean Level Stability in Adulthood

The five-factor model of personality also shows fairly consistent mean level stabilit over time, as shown in Figure 5.2. Especially after age 50, there is little change in the average level of stability in openness, extraversion, neuroticism, conscientiousness, and agreeableness.

Little change, however, does not mean no change. In fact, there are small but consistent changes in these personality traits, especially during the decade of the twenties. As you can see in Figure 5.2, there is a tendency for openness, extraversion, and neuroticism to gradually decline with increasing age until around age 50. At the same time, conscientiousness and agreeableness show a gradual increase over time. The magnitude of these age ef fects is not lar ge.

Recent studies have confirmed that mean-level personality traits change i slight, but nonetheless important, ways during adulthood. By far the most consistent change is a good one—people score lower on Neuroticism or Negative Affect as they grow older. From freshman to senior years in college, for example, students show a decrease in Neuroticism corresponding to roughly half a standard deviation (d = — .49) (Robins et al., 2001). Even a smaller longitudinal study from freshman year to 2.5 years later showed the same finding—students reported experiencing less negativ affect and more positive af fect over time (V aidya, Gray, Haig, & Watson, 2002). A longitudinal study from adolescence to mid-life found a consistent decrease in the experience of Negative Affect—individuals feel less anxious, less distressed, and less irritable as they move into mid-life (McCrae et al., 2001). Similar findings wer obtained in a massive longitudinal study of 2,804 individuals over a 23-year time span—negative af fectivity decreased consistently as the participants got older (Charles, Reynolds, & Gatz, 2001). A massive meta-analysis of 92 dif ferent samples found that both women and men gradually become more emotionally stable as they grow older, with the lar gest changes occurring between the ages of 22 and 40 (Roberts, Walton, & Viechtbauer, 2006). In sum, most people become less emotionally volatile, less anxious, and generally less neurotic as they mature—a nice thing to look forward to for people whose current lives contain a lot of emotional turmoil.

Some people, however , change more than others. Do people know how their personality may have changed? In a fascinating study , researchers assessed the Big Five personality traits in a sample of students right when they entered college (Robins et al., 2005). Four years later they assessed them on the Big Five, and then asked them to evaluate whether they believed that they had changed on each of these personality dimensions. Interestingly, people actually show some awareness of the changes—perceptions of personality change show moderate correspondence with actual personality change.

While neuroticism and negative af fect are declining with age, people also score higher on agreeableness and conscientiousness as they grow older . One study found an increase in agreeableness of nearly half a standard deviation (d = + .44), while conscientiousness increased roughly one-quarter of a standard deviation (d = + .27) (Robins et al., 2001). Similar findings have been discovered by other researchers: Col lege students become more agreeable, extraverted, and conscientious from freshman year to two and a half years later (V aidya et al., 2002); agreeableness and conscientiousness increase throughout early and middle adulthood (Srivastava, John, Gosling, & Potter, 2003); positive af fect increases from the late teen years through the early fifties (Charles et al., 2001). Perhaps a good summary of the mean level personalit changes comes directly from the longitudinal researchers: "The personality changes that did take place from adolescence to adulthood reflected growth in the direction o greater maturity; many adolescents became more controlled and socially more confi dent and less angry and alienated" (Roberts, Caspi, & Mof fitt, 2001, p. 670)

Finally, the Big Five personality dispositions may be changeable through therapy. In a unique study , Ralph Piedmont (2001) evaluated the ef fects of an outpatient drug rehabilitation program on personality dispositions, as indexed by the Big Five. The therapy, administered to 82 men and 50 women over a six-week period, revealed fascinating findings. Those who went through the program showed a decrease in Neuroticism, and increases in Agreeableness and Conscientiousness (d = .38). These personality changes were lar gely maintained in a follow-up assessment 15 months later, although not as dramatically (d = 28).

In sum, although personality dispositions generally show high levels of mean stability over time, predictable changes occur with age and perhaps also with therapy— lower Neuroticism and Negative Affect, higher Agreeableness, higher Conscientiousness.


Each person's personality is, in some ways, stable over time; however, in other ways, it

changes over time. In this exercise, you can evaluate yourself in terms of what describes

you now and how you think you will be in the future (Markus & Nurius, 1986). Fol

lowing is a list of items. For each one, simply rate it on a 1 to 7 scale, with 1 meaning

"does not describe me at all" to 7 meaning "is a highly accurate description of me."

Give a rating for each of two questions: (1) Does this describe me now? and (2) Will

this describe me in the future?

Items Describes Me Will Describe Me in the

Now Future

Is happy

Is confident

Is depressed

Is lazy

Travels widely

Has lots of friends

Is destitute (poor)

Is sexy

Is in good shape

Speaks well in public

Makes own decisions

Manipulates people

Is powerful

Is trusted

Is unimportant

Is offensive

Now compare your answers to the two questions. Any items you gave the same answers

to indicate that you believe that this attribute will remain stable for you over time. The

items that change, however, may reflect the ways in which your personality will change

over time.

You can view your possible self in a number of ways, but two are especially

important. The first pertains to the desired self—the person you wish to become. Some

people wish to become happier, more powerful, or in better physical shape. The second

pertains to your feared self—the sort of person you do not wish to become, such as poor

or rigid. Which aspects of your possible self do you desire? Which aspects of your pos-

sible self do you fear?

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  • Grazia Piazza
    What is mean level change psychology?
    6 months ago
  • Gebre
    How to meanlevel stability measure personality stability over time?
    2 months ago

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