August 04, 2010
Childhood Personalities Stable 40 Years Later

Personality traits evident to teachers of school-aged children where will present 40 years later.

Using data from a 1960s study of approximately 2,400 ethnically diverse elementary schoolchildren in Hawaii, researchers compared teacher personality ratings of the students with videotaped interviews of 144 of those individuals 40 years later.

What they discovered was surprising, said Christopher S. Nave, a doctoral candidate at UC Riverside and lead author of the paper, “On the Contextual Independence of Personality: Teachers’ Assessments Predict Directly Observed Behavior After Four Decades.” Co-authors of the paper are Ryne A. Sherman, a UCR doctoral candidate; David C. Funder, UCR professor of psychology; Sarah E. Hampson, a researcher at the Oregon Research Institute; and Lewis R. Goldberg, professor of psychology emeritus at the University of Oregon. The research was sponsored by the National Institute on Aging through a grant to the Oregon Research Institute.

“We remain recognizably the same person,” Nave said. “This speaks to the importance of understanding personality because it does follow us wherever we go across time and contexts.”

Our personalities follow us around. You could say we are stalked by our personalities. Or we are imprisoned by our personalities, doomed to play a role dictated by personality.

Kids who possessed any of 4 different traits continued to demonstrate those traits in adult life.

The researchers examined four personality attributes – verbally fluent, adaptable, impulsive and self-minimizing. They found that:

• Youngsters identified as verbally fluent – defined as unrestrained talkativeness – tended, as middle-aged adults, to display interest in intellectual matters, speak fluently, try to control the situation, and exhibit a high degree of intelligence. Children rated low in verbal fluency by their teachers were observed as adults to seek advice, give up when faced with obstacles, and exhibit an awkward interpersonal style.

• Children rated as highly adaptable – defined as coping easily and successfully with new situations – tended, as middle-aged adults, to behave cheerfully, speak fluently and show interest in intellectual matters. Those who rated low in adaptability as children were observed as adults to say negative things about themselves, seek advice and exhibit an awkward interpersonal style.

• Students rated as impulsive as adults were inclined to speak loudly, display a wide range of interests and be talkative. Those who were rated low on impulsivity were observed, as adults, to be fearful or timid, keep others at a distance and express insecurity.

• Children whose teachers rated them as having a tendency to self-minimize – defined as humble, minimizing their own importance or never showing off – as adults were likely to express guilt, seek reassurance, say negative things about themselves and express insecurity. Those who were ranked low as self-minimizing were observed as adults to speak loudly, show interest in intellectual matters and exhibit condescending behavior.

Recognize yourself in any of those traits? Recognize me? What sort of blogging personality do I have anyway?

Biology as destiny. We are who we biologically are.

“We think that personality resides within us,” Nave said. “It’s a part of us, a part of our biology. Life events still influence our behaviors, yet we must acknowledge the power of personality in understanding future behavior as well.”

Further study will expand knowledge that “one’s personality has important outcomes associated with it.” In addition, future research will “help us understand how personality is related to behavior as well as examine the extent to which we may be able to change our personality.”

Though I wonder whether the effects of drugs like Adderal cause a long term change in personality. Anyone seen evidence that some kind of long term drug use might, say, decrease impulsiveness or become less bashful?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 August 04 10:18 PM  Brain Personality

PacRim Jim said at August 5, 2010 8:34 AM:

Many obese Americans are setting themselves up for personality changes both subtle and gross, as the result of hypertension and strokes.

Biobob said at August 5, 2010 8:53 AM:

LOL - 4 whole personality traits !!

Why, I could perform a 3 dimentional analysis on such a detailed portrait of personality !

Seriously, this reminds me of Goodall et al year and years worth of analysis of the heritability of Dominance/etc in primates - old news

Matt said at August 7, 2010 8:22 AM:

I'm "low" in all those traits (well, I'd say slightly under average), yet I would say high in interest in intellectual matters. I'm really surprised that the stereotypical nerdish social awkwardness is connected with traits which indicate low interest in intellectual matters. Reminds me of the data from -

At first blush, the intense, intellectual introvert who is socially awkward a la Woody Allen seems to be less typical than the intellectual extrovert, which surprises me. Perhaps this is because politics/sociology and art are considered intellectual matters and the introvert who wants to be left alone and govern himself and isn't so interested in the communicative aspects of art may not be so turned on to them (in particular politics, which is well suited to those with "a sort of sociopathic narcissism that makes me think I should be in charge of everyone" ;) ). Philosophy I would think would exhibit less skew in that direction, and I could see science and mathematics even having a mild opposite skew.

(It also reminds me of the "Authoritarian Personality" hypothesis!).

j.a.m. said at August 9, 2010 11:53 AM:

Wouldn't you also have to look at the extent to which the child's development is shaped by the expectations, perceptions and feedback of influential adults like teachers? How much of this is self-fulfilling? In my experience teachers' perceptions can be very biased and inaccurate.

moi said at August 9, 2010 11:56 AM:

There is an "astrological"/amorphous/abstract angle to this study. Also are these conclusions not fairly obvious, with some exceptions to some people? These studies baffle me. Usually, my "interest in intellectual matters" and "adaptability" lead me to read such studies say: "Yeah. I knew that because I have common sense." Is that condescending behavior on my part? heh

TheAbstractor said at August 9, 2010 12:00 PM:

On your last note, I can say from my experience with Provigil that it does have some effect on your personality and work-flow long after you're done taking it. When I have some big project to do, I'll be oddly able to imitate myself and that "in-the-zone" feeling I had when I was on Provigil. Also, the experience with the drug may have provided me a much needed encouragement. I started taking it during a period of life when I had a series of tough bosses at my employment telling me, in not-so-subtle terms, that I wasn't measuring up and didn't have what it takes to play with the big boys. My performance while taking the drug proved the contrary: that there was something inside of me that could be a Type A go-getter when I needed to be. In that sense, nootropics can perform the same function as ibogaine or other "mystical" hallucinagens: gives the user a mind-alternating experience that educates himself about how his mind works.

Scorpius said at August 9, 2010 12:01 PM:

Two things.

The study seems to completely neglect the intellectual introvert. As anyone who's worked in science, math, engineering, and technology knows: there are plenty of them. It's almost like this study was conducted by a liberal arts or sociology major.

My personality as a child (completely introverted to the point of having few friends) is completely different than my current personality of being outspoken, assertive, and making friends easily.

Yes, biology is destiny (largely); but, unlike physics, there are no hard-and-fast rules in biology. Sometimes you'll look at a family who is low intelligence for generations and find an outlier of an over-achieving genius. Not often; but it happens.

anomdebus said at August 9, 2010 12:04 PM:

I would say that fluent, adaptable and impulsive people are rewarded in our society and humble, reflective and careful people are not. Although, I would probably agree that personality is largely fixed by a certain age, the way in which one group end up with largely positive characteristics reflect how society treats them.

Steevo said at August 9, 2010 12:16 PM:

Well I've known kid friends who were conceited egotists decades later as modest and quite sensitive to others. I can think of many childhood friends who's basic disposition has changed in substantial ways through so many years of maturation. At the same time there are the same or similar characteristics I would define as unique to the individual, just as with myself. It's not so cut and dry as the study would suggest.

Reasoner said at August 9, 2010 12:28 PM:

What group of people is responsible for killing 18 million blacks since 1973? Black women who abort their children. Racists!

Daddio said at August 9, 2010 12:28 PM:

"Our personalities follow us around. You could say we are stalked by our personalities. Or we are imprisoned by our personalities, doomed to play a role dictated by personality."

Wow! This researcher must really hate himself. I look at my personality as a gift just like the rest of my being. I'm happy to live in the skin I've been given.

SteveM said at August 9, 2010 12:33 PM:

Is this anything other than an illustration that a body in motion tends to stay in motion? Absent any outside influence, I would expect that peoples personality would tend to stay the same. That does not translate to "biology is destiny" though.

Take a person who is by nature friendly and outgoing. Subject him to intense abuse and hostility from a very early age. Do you wind up with a person who is friendly and outgoing? If not, the whole "primacy of nature" argument falls flat.

Ryan said at August 9, 2010 12:41 PM:

A few months ago I met a guy I knew in High school. He came over for a beer and as we where sitting on the back patio, ranting about politics and coworkers. He stops me and says, "Dude, you never change, do you!" I responded, "If I like who I am, why would I change?"
He was smiling while he said it so I took it as a compliment. :-)

Nancy Gee said at August 9, 2010 12:41 PM:

The shooter at the beer company last week seemed to have a history of seeing racism everywhere. He complained at every job he'd had about racism, despite getting raises and promotions, and seemingly not having too much of a problem finding jobs. I wonder how much the personality is affected by external expectations, like -- if you expect to be snubbed racially, you will be. Or you'll think you've been, even if no one else sees it. Too bad a bunch of other people had to die, too, for him to feel equal.

Jonathan said at August 9, 2010 12:41 PM:

I doubt personality is fixed by any age (to agree to this would be to believe in determinism) but personality TRAITS (against which someone may have to struggle) are probably fixed early on. I was diagnosed as a jerk following one of my work-mandated MBTI tests, and ever since then I've been far more mindful of how I present myself. It take conscious effort not to shoot my mouth off in various situations, but most people who know me now and tolerated me before would agree I'm wildly more effective in interpersonal interactions than I had been. Which is not to say that I'm at all enjoyable to be around.

Minnesota Skeptic said at August 9, 2010 12:55 PM:

I suspect that this finding would not have surprised people from the not-to-distant past. It was common for a child to be born into a family that had several generations living under the same roof or in close proximity. The older people would have observed that there was little change in a person's core personality from childhood to adulthood (assuming the observer lived long enough to observe). That this should seem like a surprising revelation now is reflective of the fact that we are such a mobile society. I went to 3 high schools in 3 states, as well as 3 different elementary schools in 2 states. It would have been difficult for anyone outside of my immediate family to observe me for any significant period of time. I left my family to go to college and never returned but for short vacations. Thus, no one was in a position to assess my "core personality" by the time I reached age 40. I do have younger brothers, though, and conclude from my admittedly limited observations of them that they are still very much the same "people" they were as young children. So this research is not surprising to me in the least.

J said at August 9, 2010 1:20 PM:

What Scorpius said hits the mark. I saw the 4 "traits" and immediately noticed that there's a systematic bias against the introvert--the assumption that the extroversion is preferable and that the implication that the individual qualities listed as examples are mutually exclusive. In particular, I'd really like to know what "display interest in intellectual matters" actually means to the researchers.

David said at August 9, 2010 2:08 PM:

All better and more richly illustrated by the Seven Up series.

T said at August 9, 2010 3:11 PM:

I find this interesting as a parent of one child diagnosed with autism and another with Asperger's Syndrome. Both children have the language-impairments associated with their respective syndromes and also have deficits in social skills and adapting to new situations. Reading this makes me wonder if some of these children with poor language skills who were socially awkward were individuals who might have received a diagnosis somewhere on the higher end of the autism spectrum if the awareness of the disability was as widespread as it is today. Neither my uncle nor my brother have a formal diagnosis of Asperger's but both exhibit characteristics of the syndrome -- and both are highly intelligent, as is my own son with Asperger's -- and both would have been been seen as non-fluent, poorly-adapting, socially-awkward children. None of what I have said should be construed as a denial of the very real increase in the prevalence of autism over the last several years. Just me ruminating on what popped into my head.

Wayne Richards said at August 9, 2010 5:11 PM:

David at 2:08pm

You're absolutely right. The Seven Up series was a ground-breaking production of (I think) BBC TV. They began by interviewing about a dozen children at age seven, then followed up with the same children every seven years thereafter with, I seem to recall, one break in the series. The children were chosen from several neighbourhoods, schools, and social classes.

I think the latest instalment was 56 Up. The entire series was available on VHS, and I would be astonished and saddened if it were not available on DVD. It might take some searching, but I strongly recommend to all here interested enough in the subject to read
this far that they take the trouble to find it. And even own it.

Marie said at August 9, 2010 9:32 PM:

I think the researchers ignore what I see as obvious - I don't think it's biological. We are created by God and we are created as individuals. Events can shape us afterwards, but we are each one of us unique individuals and those traits we are created with are part of who we are.

Bill Chunko said at August 10, 2010 2:46 AM:

I don't find this surprising. I have two children in school right now. When I would pick them up after school in the afternoon, I would notice how the children were already sorting themselves out. It occured to me that the way they dressed, interacted, and conducted themselves was an indication of the path they would travel.

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