Younger than Yesterday?

This column originally appeared in The Observer magazine/Guardian online

How would you say your personality has changed as you have got older (and hopefully wiser)? And, if you think that – like a fine wine – you’ve improved with age, how likely is it that others would share your assessment? Comparing your 14- and 29-year-old selves, would you say that you became more

(a) extraverted and outgoing?               YES/NO

(b) conscientious and hardworking?   YES/NO

(c) open to trying new experiences?    YES/NO

(d) emotionally stable?                            YES/NO

(e) a nicer, kinder person?                       YES/NO

 

If you answered “YES” to (a)-(c) then you’re probably right, and your friends and family would probably agree. A new longitudinal study of more than 10,000 people – led by Julia Rohrer from The University of Leipzig – found that extraversion, conscientiousness and openness increased from 14-29, whether looking at self-report or other people’s ratings. That said, people tend to slightly overestimate their increase in conscientiousness and underestimate their increase in openness (i.e., we don’t become hard-working, boring adults quite as quickly as we think we do). The results for (d) emotional stability are even more revealing. Most people think that they get more stable as they get older, but it turns out their friends and family don’t share their optimism. Finally, when it comes to (e) general agreeableness, a leopard really doesn’t change its spots. Whether you ask people themselves or those who know them best, someone who is an arsehole at 14 is usually still an arsehole at 29.

A fully referenced version of this article is available at benambridge.com. Order Psy-Q by Ben Ambridge (Profile Books, £8.99) for £6.99 at bookshop.theguardian.com

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