Personality traits refer to relatively enduring patterns of thoughts, behaviors and feeling, which identifies an individual as distinct from others (Matthews, Deary, and Whiteman, 2003). Following a contentious debate on whether genetic factors, environmental influences or interplay between the two aspects defines personality,researchers moved on to analyze the stability of personality. The theme of this paper will be to determine whether personality traits are arched on the genes, thus consistent over the years only affected by aging of the cells, or have an influence from the surrounding factors (nurture). There are several documented researches ether supporting or discounting the probability of personality being stable with age. This paper explores extensive insight into these studies and their result with the aim of drawing sound inferences about the personality stability.
In order to understand personality stability, it is worth recapturing the trends in the definition and classification of personality traits. A recapture will also be imperative in arriving at sound inferences on stability of personality. The trait theory of personality suggests that individuals possess distinct dispositions that can be used while describing them. The trait theory forms a perfect ground in analyzing stability of personality since it allows researchers to compare different individuals in a society. This is different from other personality theories such as humanistic and psychoanalytic theories of personality.
One of the first individual to evaluate traits among individuals was Gordon Allport who categorized diverse personality traits into three categories. The first category, cardinal traits, comprised of traits that are somehow dominant and consistent throughout an individual’s life to an extent of crafting names from such traits. Cardinal traits are unique to an individual and are acquired later in life, for example, Christ-Like, Godly, and narcissism among others. The second category in Allport theory, central traits, forms the second most common factors involved in describing an individual. In most cases, people use central traits while describing individuals in a general context. Examples include, intelligent, extravagant, corrupt and shy. The last Allport category, secondary traits, comprises of situational based behavioral traits such as being impatient or rude in a given scenario.
The number of traits identified by Allport comprised of over 4000. Raymond Cattell reduced these traits to 171 discounting traits that were eminently uncommon in the society. The 171 traits were further grouped into sixteen traits that form the foundation of contemporary classification of traits. The sixteen traits form the widely used Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire. Another contributor in the trait theory is Hans Esyenck who crafted three classes of personality traits. The first class focused on perspectives of the individual whether inward oriented (introversion) or outward oriented traits (extroversion). The second class looked into individual’s mood; whether easily upset (neuroticism) or constant emotions (emotional stability). The last class of traits according to Hans included traits that describe those who are psychotic (psychoticism). Researchers moved on to develop a more agreeable model of personality that reduced Allport traits yet expounded on Eysenck’s traits. This forms the Five Factor Theory of personality. The five traits domains include extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness.
In evaluating the stability of personality over time, researchers have focused on the Big Five trait theory in drawing the conclusion. The ability to determine consistency of the traits with age using the Big Five classification offers the researcher an opportunity to analyze the continuum of the traits. Some of the challenges faced during in determining the stability of traits include disagreeable meaning and impression of the term consistent. The term change in most of the studies is taken to refer to the potential of the trait to increase or decrease in value. In this connection, assessment tests are conducted as individuals’ age and comparative analysis done to draw conclusions.
There have been contentious issues on whether personality traits are fixed during childhood or developed throughout individual’s life. In a study conducted by Roberts and Mroczek (2008), some of the traits classified in the Big Five theory were shown to decline in quality while other escalated in value. In another study conducted in the University of California, traits changes were demonstrated among 30 respondents who participated in the study. Traits changes over time have been determined to develop more during the middle adult stage than any other age groups. According to Roberts and Mroczek, 2008 the facilitating factors during this period that potentiate positivity adopting and growth in traits are associated with social maturity and development of a feeling of responsibility. The genetic factor in determining stability personality has minimal influences. Traits are not affected by the growing in age of the human cells. Researches that have supported the development of personality traits from gene fail to explain the reason why traits do not illustrate changes depicted by aging.
Socially, individuals will record remarkable changes in personality depending on their current working and social life. For instance, individuals who have been appointed to lead and manage a group of individuals will conform to a positive end conscientiousness continuum. Such people will tend to be goal directed, thoughtfulness and with profound personal control. These traits develop since the individual is faced by responsibility that depends on such traits for higher achievement. In most of the researches, there has been a consistency in the results suggesting that agreeableness and conscientiousness escalate with age. Adult demonstrates higher score in ranks of the two traits compared to the youth. According to Mroczek & Spiro, 2003, old people scores higher in trait scales than the young people, a fact which support improvement in enhancement of traits with age.
Emotional stability is demonstrated to increase throughout an individual’s life (Matthews, Deary, and Whiteman, 2003). This is associated with the ability of the individual to acquire intellectual humility and open mindedness. The influence of the ego continues to dwindle as superego development; thus the individual adopts the social norm and behaves accordingly. However, openness was demonstrated to increase during adolescent stage, but no significance change during old age was noted. In has also been identified that personalities traits development and improvement will depend on the social cultural aspect exposure level to the individual. Accelerated traits value among these individuals will thus depend on the influence of nurture over nature.
Personality is not a static attribute since individuals will continuously grow, develop and improve on personality traits (Matthews, Deary and Whiteman, 2003). Most of the studies evaluating personality change have demonstrated that, individuals will record a positive change over years. Changes in personality are engineered to enable the individual relate and adapt positively in their environment. Personality is also affected by events such as training, and educational programs. These programs are associated with improvement in the level of changes on personality. For instance, differences in personality between individuals who have received education to different levels illustrate significant influence of education on personality.
In conclusion, personality as defined by Traits Theory is dynamic and not restricted from changes in life. Personality traits consistently changes with age. However, the extent of change experience across different categories of traits as outlined in the “Big Five-Theory” of personality will be at different magnitude. Nurture has a mammoth impact on personality change among individuals. Factors such as family, work and social influences will interplay in changing personality of an individual over time.