If you’ve always suspected you’ll be different as an old lady, you were right.
Some people fear getting older, but not me. Like Jenna Rink in 13 Going on 30, I have always suspected that my best years are ahead of me. Partly, this is down to the fact that I’ve been lucky enough to encounter innumerable brilliant, older women over the years, all of whom have coalesced in my mind into a sort of platonic ideal of what a Grown Woman should be: kind, self-assured, supremely wise and unwilling to deal with other people’s bulls**t.
As a result, I’ve long known what kind of woman I’d like to mature into over the next few decades. When I’m in my 40s and 50s, I like to imagine that I’ll have grown out of my insecurities and will no longer leave a breadcrumb trail of lost possessions in my wake. In my 60s and 70s, I hope to be sage, twinkly, retired and going to the theatre a lot. From my 80s onwards, if I’m lucky enough to get there, I plan to go full eccentric. I can’t wait.
Of course, throughout my life, I’ll still be me. But according to new research, it’s not unrealistic to expect your personality to change as you age. In a recent long-term study, researchers at the University of Houston found that our thoughts, feelings and behaviours – in other words, the core fundamentals of our personalities – do change as we get older, and these changes accumulate over time.
As a result, there’s a noticeable difference in the personality we have in our youth and the one we have in old age.
“Our findings suggest that personality has a stable component across the lifespan, both at the trait level and at the profile level, and that personality is also malleable and people mature as they age,” wrote the researchers in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Personality is described as patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviours, made up of five main traits: conscientiousness, agreeableness, openness to experiences, extraversion and emotional stability.
According to Rodica Damian, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Houston and the lead author on the study, those traits have been found across all ages and cultures around the world.
However, individuals will have differing levels of these core traits. A person’s ‘personality profile’ can be established by looking at the dominance of each trait compared to the others – so, for example, you might be high on agreeableness, extraversion and openness to experiences, but relatively low on emotional stability and conscientiousness.
In 1960, a group of US high school students took a questionnaire designed to assess their personality profiles. Fifty years later, the former students – now in their mid-60s – answered the same questions again.
Their responses formed a dataset used by Damian and her co-authors to investigate the extent to which personalities change between the ages of 16 and 66. They found that while some dominant traits hold steady over the course of our lives, most people’s personalities do change.
“The rankings [of personality traits] remain fairly consistent,” said Damian. “But, on average, everyone becomes more conscientious, more emotionally stable, and more agreeable.”
That sounds like we’re all on track to become nicer people as we get older. So don’t fear ageing – the future’s bright.
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