As we grow older does our personality change? That is what I decided to do my research paper on. I would assume that as we age that our personalities could be affected by what we are going through. There have been studies on the issue of personality stability in early and middle adulthood, but few have looked at the very old, who are often confronted with major changes in their health and life circumstances which can severely impact adaptive behavior. There are many studies that have shown that personality traits are very stable once one enters adulthood, as well as among the elderly (Maiden, 2003). However, despite these findings, personality traits can be modified, especially when we are confronted with events in our lives that force us to adapt. Many can maintain a stable personality, but there are stipulations. Most people who have a stable life have it due to a certain level of education, a good circle of friends, a good marriage, and a satisfying career that can maintain their personality (Maiden, 2003). On the other side of the coin when we go through more difficult or turbulent times our personality can change as we attempt to adapt to our changing lives. We all have ways that we cope with issues, such as trauma, and that can shape our personality.While researching I found that several studies do support the idea that we do change as we grow older, but of course there are studies that argue that the aging process is not necessarily what changes our personalities. Haan, Millsap, and Hartka found that personality was unstable during the transitional period between middle and adulthood to late adulthood (Maiden, 2003). This is generally a time that is very challenging and potentially fraught with negative life experiences and changing life circumstances, i.e., retirement, illness, and widowhood. Robert Maiden, Steven Peterson, Myrah Caya, and Bert Hayslip chose this particular time period to support their theory that a person’s personality can change when he/she is challenged by life events that are traumatic and negative. To highlight how change may occur (i.e., what particular set of circumstances is important in this process), they operationalized life events by measuring changes in their participants physical health, social activity, and unmet psychosocial needs. If such changes do occur it may point to an interactive model of personality development in adulthood. Hartshorne and May in 1928 showed that the personality trait of honesty in children and adults was inconsistent across situations (Maiden, 2003). Environmental theorists, such as Dollard and Miller in 1950 and Skinner in 1953, also argued that the situation or set of environmental contingencies determined how one behaved in a particular instance and that enduring personality structure or dispositions were at best, irrelevant or more likely, nonexistent. Many began to question early trait theorists such as Cattell and Eysenck, who contended that the personality was genetically determined, stable, and relatively unchanging in adults, arguing that personality as measured by trait theorists was primarily based on self-reports, which may be stable over time (Maiden, 2003). These, however, had little validity in predicting how an individual would react to changes in a particular situation. Mischel found that adjustment to deinstitutionalization among mental patients depended essentially upon the reciprocal interactions between the individual and his/her environment, resulting in little or no consistency between one’s overt behavior and the assessment of personality traits prior to the individual’s discharge (Maiden, 2003). Epstein argued that when a number of behavioral observations were made across a large number of situations and conditions, considerable consistency was found on personality traits. So, it is obvious that there are many theories and studies that have differing opinions when it comes to personality changes. Costa and McCrae conducted the most extensive and state-of-the-art research on a five-factor trait theory of personality. On the basis of a series of seminal studies, they have articulated a theory of personality structure and functioning, which they believe accurately reflects not only how people say they will behave in a particular situation but also how people really behave in such situations (Maiden, 2003). What is most important is that Costa and McCrae demonstrated that personality dispositions for the most part change very little among the vast majority of adults after the age of 30. McCrae and Costa contend that personality is genetically determined, universal, and unfolds across the life span according to a predetermined plan. It is not determined by and/or is little affected by changes in the environment or culture of an individual. Indeed, they argue that it is the other way around; that is, people change their environment or social role to suit their personality (Maiden, 2003). For example, McCrae observed that conscientiousness does not attain its highest level in most people until early-to-mid-adulthood. At such time, the environment is then shaped by adults assuming the responsibility of raising a family and pursuing a career (Maiden, 2003). However, it is important to acknowledge that stability may have different adaptive consequences, depending on the particular dimension of the personality being considered. Thus, stability in neuroticism may prove to be maladaptive, while stability in extroversion or agreeableness may work to one’s advantage. Needless to say, the suggestions that personality is not influenced by and individual’s environment or culture and that personality is virtually absolute after the age of 30 have not gone unnoticed. As we reach middle age and beyond, we tend to care more about our work, responsibilities, and people in our lives. As we can become set in our own ways, we may be less open to meeting new people, and we may become less neurotic and extroverted. Sanjay Srivastava, PhD, a psychologist at Stanford University did some research that suggested that personality changes less and less over time. He performed a self-questionnaire online that was completed by 132,000 Americans and Canadians between the ages of 21 and 60 (Kircheimer, 2003). They were tasked to rate themselves on personality traits known by psychologists as the “Big Five”. These are conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness, and extroversion. Srivastava was somewhat surprised by the results. He found that personality traits change gradually but consistently throughout life; and on average, people are getting better as they get older (Kircheimer, 2003). His study adds to evidence that personality may not solely result from biology, but changes over time as the result of life stages, experiences, social environment, and gender. Srivastava says that this offers some reassurance to people worried about aging. He states that we can get better as we age, at least at some traits. Psychologist Robert Hogan, PhD, states that people tend to have more integrity and put more emphasis on fulfilling their responsibilities and doing what they say they’ll do (Kircheimer, 2003). He does believe that the best way to evaluate someone’s personality is to have people answer questions on a questionnaire, and then validate their answers with others who know them. This is because we tend to see ourselves different than others see us. The positive changes in our personalities as we age can be attributed to gaining a better sense of our own identity. As we grow older, we tend to realize who and what we stand for by a certain age. This usually occurs in our late 30’s and on. When we look at Erikson’s stage theory of psychosocial development as we age, we move into the eight and final of Erikson’s stages which is Integrity versus despair. This stage begins at approximately age 65 and ends at death. Psychologists, counselors, and nurses today use the concepts of Erikson’s stages when providing care for aging patients. Erikson’s theory suggests that we pass through eight distinctive developmental stages as they grow and change through life. Erikson was one of the few theorists to at development across the entire course of the lifespan (Cherry, 2019). He was also the first to view the aging process itself as part of human development. At each stage of psychosocial development, people are faced with a crisis that acts as a turning point in development. Successfully resolving the crisis leads to developing a psychological virtue that contributes to overall psychological well-being (Cherry, 2019). At the integrity versus despair stage, the key conflict centers on questioning whether or not the individual has les a meaningful, satisfying life. This a time when we reflect back on our lives. Did we accomplish the things that we set out to do? Do we have regrets about things we should have done or about things we could have done differently? In the stage of integrity versus despair we begin to tackle the problem of his or her mortality. The onset of this stage is often triggered by life events such as retirement, the loss of a spouse, the loss of friends and acquaintances, facing a terminal illness, and other changes to major roles in our lives. As stated earlier we are looking back on our lives and how we lived and we can either come away with a sense of fulfillment from the lives we lived or a sense of regret and despair over a life misspent. If we are successful, we gain wisdom. If we are unsuccessful, we tend to feel like we have wastes our one chance and we will experience many regrets. This ultimately leaves us with a feeling of bitterness and despair. We must make adjustments in our expectations if we are to be successful during this stage.Some things or factors that can have an impact on our personalities as we get older can be mentally, emotionally, and physical changes. There is life changing event that are occurring when we reach later adulthood. Some of these events are retirement, becoming a grandparent, friendships and social connections, widowhood, and going from the provider of care to the recipient of care. Some emotions and changes that can occur due to these situations can be frustration, being overwhelmed, loneliness, sadness, and anger (Orosa, 2016). These can occur even if we have a good support system, but if we don’t have a support system, i.e., family and friends then these feelings are increased. There is a struggle with independence versus dependence. We don’t want to give up our independence, and for some this is where it all goes downhill. Its hard to have to depend on someone for daily activities that most of take for granted. We need to be compassionate, patient, and have empathy for our loved ones in this stage. If we put ourselves in their shoes, we can see how we might feel. I discussed some examples of what can lead to changes in our behaviors above, but a major issue is forgetfulness. Dementia can come along with age. This is one the biggest and hardest things for a person to deal with. When we can’t remember people, or how to do something that we used to do every day it becomes very frustrating. It is also very difficult for family and friends to watch a loved one go through this. We feel helpless and want to fix it. As long as we are supportive and patient it may ease some of the frustration that our loved one is feeling. Dementia is a progressive disease, there is no cure. It also varies per individual as to how quickly it progresses. Some of the physical changes that we go through as we age can play a role in personality changes. If you are a very active person, but because of your knees or a hip replacement you may not be able to do all of the activities that you are accustomed to doing. This can lead to frustration, sadness, and anger. Some older adults can feel very overwhelmed with how advanced technology is and how it has been integrated into our everyday tasks. This can make something that is simple seem overwhelming to an older adult. This is another factor that gets taken for granted by family members, especially younger family members who have grown up with this technology. Its normal to them. When we encounter our loved ones trying to cope with these significant changes in their lives, we must make sure that we keep an eye on their behaviors and feelings. If we are concerned that it is not normal then we have to get help for them. There are many resources that benefit the elderly. There are professional caregivers that can help monitor your loved one’s behavior and provide the companionship that he or she needs. These can help promote our loved one’s overall wellbeing (Watt, 2011). There are things we can do to prepare for old age. We can stay healthy by exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, make sure we save for an adequate retirement, avoid smoking and drinking too much alcohol, keep in touch with friends, have a good circle of friends, have a sport or hobby to do regularly, maintain a good relationship with a partner, learn new skills or hobbies, keep active in the community whenever possible, make adjustments to our homes, and moving to an apartment or house that is more suitable for older people. (Boyon, 2019) Above all having a positive outlook or belief about our lives can go a long way in how we take these normal and somewhat major life events that are going to occur. Our personalities are what makes us unique and we all interpret experiences in different ways. What may have a huge impact on one individual may have less of an impact on another. We all cope with things differently. In conclusion, I set out to prove that as we age our personalities change. I found that this is somewhat true. For the most part our personalities remain stable or intact. By the time we reach our 30’s we for the most part know who we are. So, as we grow older our personalities can be somewhat changed based the different experiences we encounter and whether or not they were traumatic or stressful. Its complicated, but that is not surprising. There are so many factors that can go into it. There are psychological, biological, environmental and social factors that an affect us. In the end if we have a good support system that we can surround ourselves with and we can look back on our lives as a life well lived than this eases our transition and helps us to be able to confront the inevitability of our lives coming to an end.
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