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Individual differences in personality change across the adult life span


Journal of Personality

Published online on


Objective A precise and comprehensive description of personality continuity and change across the life span is the bedrock upon which theories of personality development are built. Little research has quantified the degree to which individuals deviate from mean‐level developmental trends. In this study, we addressed this gap by examining individual differences in personality trait change across the life span. Method Data came from a nationally representative sample of 9,636 Dutch participants who provided Big Five self‐reports at five assessment waves across 7 years. We divided our sample into 14 age groups (ages 16–84 at initial measurement) and estimated latent growth curve models to describe individual differences in personality change across the study period for each trait and age group. Results Across the adult life span, individual differences in personality change were small but significant until old age. For Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, and Agreeableness, individual differences in change were most pronounced in emerging adulthood and decreased throughout midlife and old age. For Emotional Stability, individual differences in change were relatively consistent across the life span. Conclusions These results inform theories of life span development and provide future directions for research on the causes and conditions of personality change.