It is almost inevitable that at some point in life, you will say, ‘I wish I had a different personality.’ Not surprisingly, one of the most frequent questions people interested in personal development ask is, “Can I change my personality type?”
As long as assumed, the answer is not that simple. As widely believed, people can’t change their personalities, which are largely stable and inherited.
But a recent study suggests something contrasting, suggesting the possibility that personality traits can change through persistent intervention and major life events.
Personality traits reflect people’s characteristic patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The traits, mainly include neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness, can predict a wide range of important outcomes such as health, happiness, and income. Many psychologists believe that these traits might represent an essential target for policy interventions designed to improve human welfare.
The study is the product of the Personality Change Consortium, an international group of researchers committed to advancing the understanding of personality change.
Wiebke Bleidorn, who initiated the consortium, said, “In this paper, we present the case that traits can serve both as relatively stable predictors of success and actionable targets for policy changes and interventions.”
Christopher Hopwood, University of California, Davis, said, “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.”
“But now, strong evidence suggests that personality traits are broad enough to account for a wide range of socially important behaviors at levels that surpass known predictors and that they can change, especially if you catch people at the right age and exert sustained effort. However, these traits also remain relatively stable; thus, while they can change, they are not easy to change.”
Scientists noted, “Resources are often invested in costly interventions that are unlikely to work because they are not informed by evidence about personality traits. For that reason, it would be helpful for public policymakers to think more explicitly about what it takes to change personality to improve personal and public welfare, the costs and benefits of such interventions, and the resources needed to achieve the best outcomes by both being informed by evidence about personality traits and investing more sustained resources and attention toward better understanding personality change.”
According to the study, a relatively small number of personality traits can account for most of the ways in which people differ from one another. Therefore, it can possibly bring essential life outcomes. Fascinatingly, these traits are stable, but changeable with effort and good timing. This combination—broad and enduring, yet changeable—makes them particularly promising targets for large-scale interventions.
Scientists noted, “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.”
The study is published in the American Psychologist.