Written By:  Gayle Horton

Our personality makes us who we are.  It influences our lives, from what career we choose to how we get along with our families.  It even influences who we choose as our friends, and even who we marry. 

Researchers believe that our personality does change as we age, because most people have personality changes over a period of their lifetime. My experience working with older adults is that they take the time to be more pleasant each day.  Many older adults have learned how not to sweat the little stuff in life!

There are "Five" big personality traits--conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness and extraversion. One well known Psychologist, Sanjay Srivastava, PhD., reports that personality traits are largely set by a person’s genetics.  Psychologists Oliver P. John, PhD, and Samuel D. Gosling, PhD, and computer scientist Jeff Potter contributed to the research that long held assumptions about our personalities being set before we are born, may not be correct. 

These Big Five personality traits are often used to measure change in personality from age 10 to 65.

Extraversion, makes us talkative and sociable.  It is the one trait that makes us need to seek social support.  This trait also declines in women as they age, and it changes very little in men as they age.  Some research suggests that shyness might be linked to a shorter lifespan.

 Conscientiousness, is a trait described as being organized, disciplined, and being dependable.  These are also linked to success in your work ethic and your relationships which increase with a person’s age. This trait declines starting in late childhood to adolescence, but then increases again from adolescence into adulthood.  Dr. Srivastava states that "Conscientiousness grows as people mature and become better at managing their jobs and relationships, and agreeableness changes most in your 30s when you're raising a family and need to be nurturing."

 Agreeableness, a trait associated with being friendly, generous and helpful. This trait helps you to be polite and trusting, and you will most likely try to avoid competition. This trait starts generally in our 30’s and continues to improve through our 60’s.  

 Neuroticism, causes worrying, stress, and feeling anxious or moody.  Duringthis study the personality changes were generally consistent between men and women, except for neuroticism and extraversion.  Young women scored higher than young men, but that changed as men and women aged over time.  Worry and our sense of instability actually decrease with age for women, but worry does not decrease for men. This may be why the statistics of suicide have increased among older men.  Over time, people with a high level of neuroticism find new reasons to complain, worry, and be dissatisfied

 Openness, during this study showed declines in both men and women over time.  Our desire to try new experiences declines slightly with age for both men and women. This change indicates that the older we become the less interested we are in forming new relationships.  Socialization is much more difficult for older adults.  So, if an older adult appears cantankerous or eccentric, it is probably because he or she was that way as a younger adult.

 Therapists suggest that we can change our personalities or at least certain undesirable traits with therapy.  Many people consider seeking therapy to achieve better relationships at work and with their families.