“People don’t change.” We hear this pretty often, and most of us have some firm beliefs about how stubborn a certain person is, how another is always late, or how a particular someone doesn’t communicate well. But findings from a new review of studies suggests that, as it turns out, it is in fact possible to change your personality — but it’s a little tricky.
Researchers conducting the review (which will be published in the journal American Psychologist) aimed to determine whether personality traits could be changed in hopes that such adaptations could improve things like one’s health, happiness, and income. They also believe that successful interventions could influence larger policies that impact human welfare overall. “Parents, teachers, employers, and others have been trying to change personality forever because of their implicit awareness that it is good to make people better people,” says Christopher Hopwood, co-author of the study.
The scientists reviewed several academic papers in personality science to find out whether or not personality traits can change, and if so, what causes these changes. Their findings indicated that personality traits identified as neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness were all subject to change if you catch people at the right age and exert a sustained effort to change the behavior. However, the researchers also noted that these traits are relatively stable, meaning that while they can change, it isn’t easy.
When it comes to changing personality traits, there are certain times that it’s best to target them. According to a press release: “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.”
Scientific research on personalities has larger implications, too. The researchers insist that larger policies are often framed with a lack of understanding about how personalities operate, and therefore, end up failing. However, they believe that more research into personalities will allow for more informed policies to be put in place. Some of the questions the researchers hope to answer eventually include: “What is the best way to help people age with grace and dignity?” and “How do we get children to be kinder and work harder at school?”
We’re sure looking forward to hearing what science has to say!