Personality changes with age? Maslow?
February 27, 2015 6:04 AM   Subscribe

I vaguely recall reading that people will tend to change as they get older so as to "balance" their personalities. Extroverts become more introspective, for example. Does this idea have any merit and where can I read about it in more depth?
posted by egk to Human Relations (10 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
You may be thinking about Erikson's model of personality development, which basically states that at each stage of life people face challenges related to that stage and their personality adapts in healthy or unhealthy ways in response. It's a bit dated as far as personality psych goes, but it's still an interesting read.
posted by Itaxpica at 6:31 AM on February 27, 2015

You may also be thinking of myers briggs personality profile. They talk about the dominant function, and auxiliary and tertiary function, and their idea is that as you age, a well-rounded person will start to draw upon their secondary and tertiary skills instead of rely on the dominant one alone. Here is another link about it but googling around should provide more.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:34 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Gail Sheehy's Passages talks about this explicitly.
posted by jaguar at 7:18 AM on February 27, 2015

Since you mention Maslow, here's his hierarchy of needs. Some have argued that that last stage or two only come, if at all, with age & maturity .
posted by mono blanco at 8:25 AM on February 27, 2015

Best answer: There's some research on Big Five traits over time - as I recall, conscientiousness tends to decline, and agreeableness tends to go up.

I don't know about "balance"; my thoughts are that people's CNSs kind of get worn out a bit (perceptual and cognitive systems slow down, infinitesimally but relentlessly; neuroticism takes energy, vigilance, etc.). Some think introversion and extraversion relate to optimal levels of stimulation, with boundaries defined by biological temperament (CNS reactivity); if experience and decay/time lead to desensitization of the CNS, maybe the upper and lower boundaries of that optimal level shift a bit in the opposite direction for any individual. Maybe, extraverts just tire out of all that sensation-seeking, and introverts chill out a bit.

Also, I think that we gain insight into our experiences, and build an increasingly secure worldview through experience and the development of a network of beliefs made of iterative rationalizations, which releases us from vigilance (or maybe, exploration, for extraverts). Anyway, most of the above is speculation; search for "big five", "personality, and "time" or "age" for relevant research.

Also, gender-related changes happen - men tend to mellow out and get a bit sweeter with less testosterone, it's thought, and women toughen up a bit (I don't know if this is estrogen-related as much as life experience-related).
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:49 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

where can I read about it in more depth

Google Scholar, or the PsycInfo database if you have institutional access. Look for review articles first.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:54 AM on February 27, 2015

Best answer: OP, please flag this if it is going in the wrong direction. I am answering this more from a neuro/biology perspective. I'm not going to put too much time into this (ie, not looking up more up-to-date or comprehensive references) because I'm not sure if this is going in the right or wrong direction from your interests and your question.

There are great studies that do look at temperament and changes in temperament across various age groups; however, they use what is referred to as Temperament and Character Inventory test (Cloninger tests), which are more comprehensive and have been used internationally for a few decades. Anyway, these studies use this test and evaluate how temperament is different across age groups, but they also evaluate how it is different between different cultures and sexes.

These two papers do a pretty good job of asking (and partially answering) the question. I did download them, so if you do not have access to journals, memail and I will send you a copy:

Brändström S, Richter J, Przybeck T. Distributions by age and sex of the
dimensions of temperament and character inventory in a cross-cultural perspective among Sweden, Germany, and the USA. Psychol Rep. 2001 Dec;89(3):747-58.

Al-Halabí S, Herrero R, Sáiz PA, García-Portilla MP, Errasti JM, Corcoran P, Bascarán MT, Bousoño M, Lemos S, Bobes J. A cross-cultural comparison between Spain and the USA: temperament and character distribution by sex and age. Psychiatry Res. 2011 Apr 30;186(2-3):397-401.

One example of temperament that changes across age groups (and has been and reported in other studies, too, besides the 2 papers above) is novelty seeking, which significantly decreases as one gets older.

It has been postulated for a very long time that decreases in dopaminergic neuronal transmission as one ages is and underlying cause/contributor of changes in novelty seeking.

Some papers that look at this question (and I think are fascinating) include the following. These papers mainly address the biological changes, not temperament:

Weickert CS, Webster MJ, Gondipalli P, Rothmond D, Fatula RJ, Herman MM, Kleinman JE, Akil M. Postnatal alterations in dopaminergic markers in the human prefrontal cortex. Neuroscience. 2007 Feb 9;144(3):1109-19.

Haycock JW, et al. Marked disparity between age-related changes in dopamine and other presynaptic dopaminergic markers in human striatum. J Neurochem. 2003. It looks like it is open access, so linking directly to paper here.

You don't mention why you want to know this info, so in case it is random curiosity and the biological differences, etc., are of interest to you, a paper that does an interesting job of evaluation this from a comprehensive angle (ie, looks at both behavior and brain changes) in adolescents:

Casey BJ et al. Adolescence: What Do Transmission, Transition, and Translation Have to Do with It? Neuron, 2010.

From the biology/neurology angle, at least for the stuff that I am familiar with, I wouldn't say these changes happen to "balance" anything. In fact, if you dig deeper, some of these changes are also associated with pathologies (and the incidence of these pathologies also changes across changes). For example, the incidence of Parkinson's disease is significantly higher as one gets older.

Apologize if this off the deep end. If you are interested in this material, I downloaded a few papers for you, so memail. If not, flag and poof! This answer will disappear.
posted by Wolfster at 10:47 AM on February 27, 2015 [9 favorites]

I remembered wrong, conscientiousness has been shown to increase (and I have flagged Wolfster's answer, as fantastic).
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:53 AM on February 27, 2015

Another citation for you, this one a meta-analysis:

Roberts, B. W., Walton, K. E., & Viechtbauer, W. (2006). Patterns of mean-level change in personality traits across the life course: a meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Psychological Bulletin, 132(1), 1–25. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.132.1.1

My understanding is that mean levels change somewhat predictably over the life span (i.e. older people tend to be more agreeable and conscientious than younger people) but rank order is relatively stable (i.e. the people who were least agreeable at age 20 are still the least agreeable at 60).
posted by MrBobinski at 5:23 PM on February 27, 2015

Response by poster: The generosity of Mefites never ceases to amaze. I am happily embarking on a very interesting field of reading. thank you
posted by egk at 5:57 AM on March 3, 2015

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