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A more personal university reunion - reflecting further, personality change and wellbeing

At the weekend I went back to my old university and spent warm, precious time with half a dozen old friends.  I have already written a couple of blog posts about this experience ... "A more personal university reunion: heading South, emotional intelligence and re-visioning our pasts" and "A more personal university reunion: North again and adult life development tasks"In these posts I talked a bit about emotional/social intelligence, about how we can re-visit and evolve our understanding of our pasts, and about the sequence of "adult life development tasks".  In this third & final post triggered by the reunion, I would like to look a bit at personality and how it can change & develop.  

Our personalities do tend to change a bit as we get older, so Boyce et al in their 2013 paper "Is personality fixed? Personality changes as much as "variable" economic factors and more strongly predicts changes to life satisfaction", wrote "Personality is the strongest and most consistent cross-sectional predictor of high subjective well-being. Less predictive economic factors, such as higher income or improved job status, are often the focus of applied subjective well-being research due to a perception that they can change whereas personality cannot. As such there has been limited investigation into personality change and how such changes might bring about higher well-being. In a longitudinal analysis of 8,625 individuals we examine Big Five personality measures at two time points to determine whether an individual's personality changes and also the extent to which such changes in personality can predict changes in life satisfaction. We find that personality changes at least as much as economic factors and relates much more strongly to changes in life satisfaction. Our results therefore suggest that personality can change and that such change is important and meaningful."  Mm ... so how would we want our personalities to change if we hoped for greater well-being?  Well there are a patchwork of emerging research studies that speak to this question - see, for example, "Personality and subjective well-being", "Personality change predicts self-reported mental and physical health""Differential relationships in the association of the big five personality traits with positive mental health and psychopathology"and "Examining concurrent and longitudinal relations between personality traits and social well-being in adulthood." 

The overall take-home message is to try your best to reduce "neuroticism" (you can see I'm trying to boost my psychotherapy business here), while it makes good sense to build "extraversion" ... with "agreeableness", a degree of "conscientiousness" and maybe a dollop of "openness" adding further value.  Hey we're not so different here from our primate cousins - see "Personality and subjective well-being in orangutans (pongo pygmaeus and pongo abelii)."  Oh ... and also worth noting ... when it comes to assessing our own neuroticism levels we're probably better judges of this than others (!) - see "Who knows what about a person? The self-other knowledge asymmetry (SOKA) model" with its abstract reading "This article tests a new model for predicting which aspects of personality are best judged by the self and which are best judged by others. Previous research suggests an asymmetry in the accuracy of personality judgments: Some aspects of personality are known better to the self than others and vice versa. According to the self-other knowledge asymmetry (SOKA) model presented here, the self should be more accurate than others for traits low in observability (e.g., neuroticism), whereas others should be more accurate than the self for traits high in evaluativeness (e.g., intellect). In the present study, 165 participants provided self-ratings and were rated by 4 friends and up to 4 strangers in a round-robin design. Participants then completed a battery of behavioral tests from which criterion measures were derived. Consistent with SOKA model predictions, the self was the best judge of neuroticism-related traits, friends were the best judges of intellect-related traits, and people of all perspectives were equally good at judging extraversion-related traits." 

As is regularly the case, Wikipedia does a good job of explaining so ... discussing the "Big five personality traits" model of personality ... they write:

  • Neuroticism – (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident). The tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily, such as anger, anxiety, depression, or vulnerability. Neuroticism also refers to the degree of emotional stability and impulse control, and is sometimes referred by its low pole – "emotional stability".
  • Extraversion – (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved). Energy, positive emotions, surgency, assertiveness, sociability and the tendency to seek stimulation in the company of others, and talkativeness.
  • Agreeableness – (friendly/compassionate vs. cold/unkind). A tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others. It is also a measure of ones' trusting and helpful nature, and whether a person is generally well tempered or not.
  • Conscientiousness – (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless). A tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully, and aim for achievement; planned rather than spontaneous behavior; organized, and dependable.
  • Openness to experience – (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious). Appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, curiosity, and variety of experience. Openness reflects the degree of intellectual curiosity, creativity and a preference for novelty and variety a person has. It is also described as the extent to which a person is imaginative or independent, and depicts a personal preference for a variety of activities over a strict routine. Some disagreement remains about how to interpret the openness factor, which is sometimes called "intellect" rather than openness to experience.

Because the Big Five traits are broad and comprehensive, they are not nearly as powerful in predicting and explaining actual behavior as are the more numerous lower-level traits. Many studies have confirmed that in predicting actual behavior the more numerous facet or primary level traits are far more effective ... Each of the Big Five personality traits contains two separate, but correlated, aspects reflecting a level of personality below the broad domains but above the many facet scales that also comprise the Big Five.  The aspects are labeled as follows: Volatility and Withdrawal for Neuroticism; Enthusiasm and Assertiveness for Extraversion; Intellect and Openness for Openness/Intellect; Industriousness and Orderliness for Conscientiousness; and Compassion and Politeness for Agreeableness."

Here is a "Five traits/Ten aspects" questionnaire that I use, and here a sheet giving "Background information" on the test.  The internet is also a rich resource for this kind of information ... see, for example, the big five test listed by the UK's BBC service

Gosh ... riches ... so good to have spent the weekend with these friends and revisited the sites of such important old memories.  It can stir up so much.  I have written about emotional/social intelligence, about how re-experiencing old memories can lead to re-visioning past meanings, about adult life development tasks, and about the evolution of personality.  It would be easy to keep writing about a series of other areas that the reunion has nudged me into considering.  However these posts feel enough reviewing for now.  What I am mostly left with after this trip back to university is a sense of warmth and gratitude for other people & for friendship. 

assessment, big 5 aspects, background_0.pdf102.86 KB
assessment, big 5 aspects_0.pdf197.33 KB
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