Can you change your personality? - What we now know in 2022
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Can you change your personality? What we now know in 2022

Personality

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Written by Talked Team

24 May, 2022

Have you ever wanted to change your personality? Maybe you want be more out-going, open to new experiences or hard working.

You may think that personality traits are fixed after a certain age, but the latest scientific research now challenges this idea and has shown that core personality traits change over time and can be changed with therapy. In this article we will dive into the details of what the research is now telling us and how we can use it to better understand our own personality.

Typically, people become more emotionally stable, conscientiousness and agreeable over time.

The Personality Traits

A lot of today's research revolves around "The Big 5" personality traits, these are Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Neuroticism, Openness, Extraversion. An easy way to remember these is by using the acronym CANOE. Let's take a look at exactly what characteristics each of these personality traits have.

Conscientiousness

Conscientiousness concerns the way in which we control, regulate, and direct our impulses.

Impulses are not inherently bad, occasionally time constraints require a snap decision, and acting on our first impulse can be an effective response. Also, in times of play rather than work, acting spontaneously and impulsively can be fun. Impulsive individuals can be seen by others as colourful, fun-to-be-with, and zany.

Nonetheless, acting on impulse can lead to trouble in a number of ways. Some impulses are antisocial.

Agreeableness

Agreeableness reflects individual differences in concern with cooperation and social harmony. Agreeable individuals value getting along with others.

They are therefore considerate, friendly, generous, helpful, and willing to compromise their interests with others'. Agreeable people also have an optimistic view of human nature. They believe people are basically honest, decent, and trustworthy.

Disagreeable individuals place self-interest above getting along with others. They are generally unconcerned with others' well-being, and therefore are unlikely to extend themselves for other people.

Sometimes their skepticism about others' motives causes them to be suspicious, unfriendly, and uncooperative.

Neuroticism

Neuroticism refers to the tendency to experience negative feelings.

Freud originally used the term neurosis to describe a condition marked by mental distress, emotional suffering, and an inability to cope effectively with the normal demands of life.

He suggested that everyone shows some signs of neurosis, but that we differ in our degree of suffering and our specific symptoms of distress. Today neuroticism refers to the tendency to experience negative feelings.

Those who score high on Neuroticism may experience primarily one specific negative feeling such as anxiety, anger, or depression, but are likely to experience several of these emotions.

Openness to Experience

Openness to Experience describes a dimension of cognitive style that distinguishes imaginative, creative people from down-to-earth, conventional people.

Open people are intellectually curious, appreciative of art, and sensitive to beauty. They tend to be, compared to closed people, more aware of their feelings. They tend to think and act in individualistic and nonconforming ways.

Intellectuals typically score high on Openness; consequently, this factor has also been called Culture or Intellect.

Extraversion

Extraversion is marked by pronounced engagement with the external world.

Extraverts enjoy being with people, are full of energy, and often experience positive emotions. They tend to be enthusiastic, action-oriented, individuals who are likely to say "Yes!" or "Let's go!" to opportunities for excitement. In groups they like to talk, assert themselves, and draw attention to themselves.

Introverts lack the exuberance, energy, and activity levels of extraverts. They tend to be quiet, low-key, deliberate, and disengaged from the social world.

Their lack of social involvement should not be interpreted as shyness or depression; the introvert simply needs less stimulation than an extravert and prefers to be alone. The independence and reserve of the introvert is sometimes mistaken as unfriendliness or arrogance.

Is your personality fixed?

In the 1950's it was widely accepted that personality was set by the age of 5 and could not be changed. In the 1970's this swung to the other extreme and psychologists thought that the whole idea of personality traits were abhorrent and that personality could be completely changed depending on one's environment.

Neither of these extremes turned out to be correct and the truth is somewhere in the middle. The picture first started to change when scientists began to record long term data on people, collecting information on their lives and personality over a 20 or 30 year span.

This data showed that people's personality traits incrementally changed over their life time, often in a positive direction.

Naturally occurring personality changes

Typically people become more emotionally stable, conscientiousness and agreeable over time. Much of this personality change is tided up in environment and events, such as if you have a partner or a family. Research carried out by Professor Brent Roberts has shown that developing significant relationships can often reduce one's level of neuroticism and increase conscientiousness. Attaching yourself to another person, having another person who cares about you and having that last for a long period of time seems to be associated with positive personality changes.

This is also true of work. Professor Robert's showed that having a job that you make progress and achievement, in whatever way you feel is important, is also associated with a decrease in neuroticism and an increase in conscientiousness.

Personality changes later in life

Moving from adolescence to adulthood often leads to large personality changes. These changes can continue to happen in middle-age and old-age but they tend to happen less often and maybe transient.

A recent study study by Ted Schwaba found that right at the transition to retirement, people increased dramatically on openness, but then soon into retirement this started to decrease again.

Long term data does show that our personalities do change naturally over time.

Speeding up personality changes

In 2021, Professor Robert's carried out a study to test whether you can speed up these naturally occurring personality changes through therapy.

His results really stunned the scientific community, because the data showed that if you go to see a therapist you can improve on neuroticism by a standard deviation, which means that you can speed up these natural occurring personality changes by 50 years! That's half a life time!

The data also showed that these changes happened incredibly quickly. In just 4 to 12 weeks of therapy significant personality changes were occurring. When you compare this to naturally personality changes that can take 50 years to occur it's remarkable just how big of an affect therapy can have.

Data shows that therapy can dramatically improve a personality trait in just 6 weeks

Getting into therapy

If you are one of the many people looking to change a part of your personality, then the research is clear - you can improve your personality with just 6 weeks of therapy. Take that first step and research our to a qualified therapist who can help you improve and reach your goal.

References

  • https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.2017548118

  • https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=NVHvpUgAAAAJ&hl=en

  • https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2018-03572-001

  • https://bigfive-test.com/

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