Trait Stability

The assertion of both stage and transition theorists that personality changes during adulthood is only partially supported by research. Many investigators (e.g., Costa & McCrae, 1980; Neugarten, 1977; Schaie &Parham, 1976) have found that personality can change during adulthood, but the overall picture is one of stability and continuity rather than reorganization and extensive changes (McCrae & Costa, 1990). A longitudinal study conducted some years ago in Kansas City (Neugarten, 1964,1973,1977) found. for example, that the coping styles, ways of attaining life satisfaction, strength of goal-directed behavior, and other socially adaptive behaviors of the participants did not change extensively from middle- to old age. Compared to the 40-year-olds, the 60-year-olds in the study tended to have a more passive view of the self and to be more concerned about their inner lives. In addition to these shifts from active to passive mastery and toward greater interiority, the older men were characterized as more nurturant in their impulses and the older women as more aggressive than their middle-aged counterparts (Neugarten, 1973).

In another investigation of age-related changes in personality, Schaie and Parham (1976) followed up eight different age cohorts over a period of 7 years. They found that, though stability was the rule rather than the exception, the degree of stability in personality varied with the individual participant and the specific trait. In addition, many of the age-related differences obtained in cross-sectional analyses of the data obtained in these studies were attributable to cohort (generational) effects. This was true for traits such as introversion, behavioral rigidity, attitudinal flexibility, and social responsibility. Other studies have found differences between older and younger adults in cautiousness, conformity, passivity, self-confidence, flexibility, and temporal orientation (Bortner & Hultsch. 1972; Cooper & Gutmann, 1987; Gutmann, 1974, 1977; Klein, 1972; Riley & Foner, 1968; Ullmann, 1976), but the differences are typically not great and may be attributable in some measure to cohort effects. Certainly, the self-concept shows a great deal of consistency from early adulthood through old age (Eisenhandler, 1989).

One of the longest-running of all longitudinal studies, the Berkeley Older Generation Study, involved the testing of young, middle-aged, and older adults over a 55-year period. The traits of intellect, extraversion, agreeable-ness, satisfaction, and energetic were assessed by means of open-ended interviews. With the exception of "energetic," these traits were similar to those in the five-factor model. Field and Millsap's (1991) analysis of these data showed that the traits of "satisfaction" and " agreeableness" remained quite stable over the lifetimes of the participants, but the traits of "intellect," "energetic," and "extraversion," showed moderate declines with aging.

Taken as a whole, the results of research concerned with the stability of personality indicate that any age-related changes are likely to be quantitative rather than qualitative. The pattern of one's personality traits, which is established fairly early in life, becomes more pronounced with aging and its attendant stresses, but the pattern does not change appreciably. Thus, a young, extroverted male is likely to remain outgoing in middle and later life, even though there is a general tendency for men to become more introverted and introspective in old age. It should be emphasized, however, that these conclusions regarding the continuity of personality over time do not necessarily apply to the personality of a particular individual. Different lives follow different courses; some show great consistency in personality over time, whereas others continue to develop and change during adulthood. A traumatic experience, severe brain damage, successful psychotherapy, a pro-

Sample Report ofScores on the NEO Personality Inventory-Revised

Client name: jim ffi NEO-FFI

Test date: 04/01/94 INTERPRETIVE REPORT

NEO-FFI Data Table


Raw score

T score


(N) Neuroticism




(E) Extraversion




(0) Openness




(A) Agreeableness



Very low

(C) Conscientiousness



Very low

Validity Indices

Validity indices are within normal limits and the obtained test data appear to be valid.

Basis of Interpretation

This report compares the respondent to other adult men. It is based on self-reports of the respondent.

This report is based on a short version of the Revised NEO Personality Inventory. It provides information on the five basic personality factors. More precise estimation of standing on the factors and more detailed information about specific traits that define them can be obtained by administering the NEO PI-R.

Global Description of Personality: The Five Factors

The most distinctive feature of this individual's personality is his standing on the factor of Conscientiousness. Men who score in this range have little need for achievement, putting personel interests or pleasure before business. They prefer not to make schedules, are often late for meetings and appointments, and have difficulty in finishing tasks. Their work is typically accomplished in a haphaz-

found religious experience or conversion, and even constant daily hassles can affect one's perceptions and responses to the environment. Depending on the personal (intelligence, physical health, temperament, etc.) and socio-cultural (economic status, family supports, etc.) factors, severe personal losses or frustrations and other major life events may be viewed by one individual as challenges to be mastered and by another as extremely stressful and discouraging (see Brim &Ryff, 1980; Dohrenwend, Krasnoff, Askensay, &

ard and disorganized fashion. They lack self-discipline, prefer play to work, and may seem aimless in setting goals for their lives. They have a relaxed attitude toward duties and obligations, and typically prefer not to make commitments. Raters describe such people as careless, neglectful, unreliable, and negligent.

This person is very low an Agreeableness. People who score in this range are antagonistic and tend to be brusque or even rude in dealing with others. They are generally suspicious of other people and skeptical of others' ideas and opinions. They can be callous in their feelings. Their attitudes are tough-minded in most situations. They prefer competition to cooperation, and express hostile feelings directly with little hesitation. People might describe them as relatively stubborn, critical, manipulative, or selfish. (Although antagonistic people are generally not well-liked by others, they are often respected for their critical independence, and their emotional toughness and competitiveness can be assets in many social and business roles.)

Next, consider the individual's level of Neuroticism. Individuals scoring in this range are likely to experience a moderately high level of negative emotion and occasional episodes of psychological distress. They are somewhat sensitive and moody, and are probablv dissatisfied with several aspects of their lives. They are rather low in self-esteem and somewhat insecure. Friends and neighbors of such individuals might characterize them as worriers or overly emotional in comparison with the average person. (It is important to recall that Neuroticism is a dimension of normal personality, and high Neuroticism scores in themselves do not imply that the individual is suffering from any psychological disorder.)

This person is average in Extraversion. Such people enjoy other people but also have periods when they prefer to be alone. They are average in level of energy and activity, and experience a normal amount of pleasant and cheerful feelings.

Finally, the individual scores in the average range in Openness. Average scorers like him value both the new and the familiar, and have an average degree of sensitivity to inner feelings. They are willing to consider new ideas on occasion, but they do not seek out novelty for its own sake.

Source: Reproduced by special permission of the Publisher, Psychological Assessment Resources. Inc., 16204 North Florida Avenue, Lutz, Florida 33549, from the NEO Personality Inventory-Revised,by Paul Costa and Robert McCrae, Copyright 1978,1985.1989.1992 by PAR, Inc. Further reproduction is prohibited without permission of PAR, Inc.

Dohrenwend, 1978; Hultsch & Plemons, 1979). Certain life events, such as the cessation of menstruation, are associated with a particular chronological age range, whereas others may occur at any time during adulthood. In any case, depending on how the individual perceives and copes with them, such events can have either negative or positive effects on personality. Furthermore, people are not mere automatons, cast and tossed this way and that by the external environment. Rather, to some extent, they create their own environments and their own personalities. People are thinking, planning, future-oriented creatures with aspirations and dreams concerning what they want to become and the "prizes" they expect to win.

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