Positive Personality Development

What’s it about?

Does personality stay stable after young age or is there continued change throughout middle and later adulthood? For decades, this caused heated debate. In recent years, a consensus has emerged that indeed there is personality change in middle and later adulthood. In general, one speaks of personality maturation or growth. The following pattern, in simplified terms, can be observed: neuroticism declines, conscientiousness and agreeableness increase. At the same time, it has been argued that this pattern of personality change is the result of coping with the developmental tasks of adulthood and therefore is increased adjustment.

What was investigated?

There seem to be two different types of positive personality development: adjustment and growth. While adjustment and growth are often equated, we wanted to find out whether a stronger differentiation of the two developments might be useful. Moreover, we wanted to test whether distinguishing adjustment and growth would lead to different implications with regard to their developments across the lifespan.

What were the main findings?

Adjustment is one form of positive personality development that allows us to function effectively within our society. This ability contributes to everyday life running smoothly and to increase personal wellbeing, life success, and longevity. As we grow older, we become more adjusted to the tasks and challenges of life. For instance, we give up blocked goals, rescale personal expectations to the given, or we let go of a self-image that does no longer fit the actual self anymore.

Personality growth is much more based on the definition of wisdom (according to the Berlin wisdom paradigm co-developed by Staudinger) and is therefore defined by the orientation toward balancing one’s own good with that of others as well as the extensive ability to make judgements in difficult and existential questions of life. To progress on the road toward wisdom or personality growth age alone and the experience that comes from it are not sufficient. Rather, extra-ordinary efforts and events as well as how these are being processed contribute to growth. In addition to some specific personality traits such as openness, one also needs the will to “grow” in difficult circumstances. Our studies have shown that indicators of personality growth normally remain stable in age or even decline with persons that show lower levels of openness. A differentiation between adjustment and growth therefore is useful because both developments depend on different factors and processes.