Ever take on a personality

Changing personality

"What kind of personality are you?
Please answer using the following scale from 1 to 7,
from 'does not apply at all' to 'fully applies'.
I am someone who ... works hard.
I am someone who ... is a little rude to others at times.
I am someone who is… original, brings up new ideas.
I am someone who is ... relaxed, good at dealing with stress. "

These questions about self-assessment of one's own personality are part of the so-called socio-economic panel, a large survey that the German Institute for Economic Research regularly conducts, most recently in 2009, to 15,000 people in Germany. The longitudinal study is actually about the situation of private households in Germany. Psychologists have now analyzed and reevaluated the data from a different perspective: Do personal characteristics change in the course of life, and if so, what is the connection with this change in character.

The psychologist Jule Specht, now at the University of Leipzig, is one of the authors of the study.

"People who are younger say that they work less thoroughly than someone who is 50 years old. He would say of himself that he works more thoroughly. Now this questionnaire answer is one thing and behavior is another, there is But context: We assume that younger people are less conscientious, that they work less thoroughly, hard-working or less efficiently, because their living environment does not yet require them to be conscientious. "

The data, explains Jule Specht, shows a connection between starting a career and conscientiousness, i.e. between an external event and an internal psychological quality, so that 30-year-olds consider themselves more conscientious on average than 20-year-olds say they do. The entry into professional life is, as it were, inscribed in the character.

"You go to work every day, you have to earn your money, take care of your livelihood, and that promotes a conscientiousness in people, that is, the person strives at this phase of life to work more thoroughly and to ensure that that she acts responsibly. At least that's what our results suggest. "

Now one would expect that a certain complex of characteristics such as conscientiousness, a sense of duty and thoroughness, once it has been trained and fixed in the psyche, becomes second nature, as it were, and accompanies people for a lifetime. But here the psychologists come up with a surprise:

"We found out that when the person retires, that person's conscientiousness is reduced. That sounds counter-inductive, because one might think that older people could still remain at their conscientiousness level the demands of working life simply require a very high degree of conscientiousness and this is no longer the case when the people retire, have a more flexible schedule, maybe even postpone their lunch for two hours and maybe go shopping when they are hungry, something along those lines. "

The complex conscientiousness belongs together with four others to a descriptive model of personality with which Jule Specht and other psychologists operate here. They assume that the following five groups of characteristics can adequately characterize a person's personality - at least for an overview:

"There is emotional stability. People who are emotionally stable are characterized by the fact that they worry little and can deal with stress very well. Then there is the factor of extraversion, something like sociability, how much a person would like being with other people, how much they strive to make friends or go to parties. The openness to experience is the third big factor. It describes something like an interest in art and culture, for literature, openness to other religions or Countries, that is, openness to everything that is new. Then there is the compatibility factor: is a person resentful or able to forgive? Or is he rather rude to other people? And the fifth quality is conscientiousness, is it someone who is very is hardworking, thorough and responsible. "

In the survey material, the psychologists analyzed the various groups of characteristics to determine whether there were significant changes in certain phases of life or in connection with external events.

The result was that not only life shapes and changes personality - especially career entry, marriage, retirement - but also, conversely, that a certain personality chooses or draws a corresponding life. And the scientists prove this with an explosive finding: people who described themselves as more agreeable were more affected by unemployment in the comparison period than those who were less tolerant.

"Agreeable people are more cooperative. Other studies have shown, for example, that agreeable people can perform better in groups and also bring professional success to a company. That doesn't mean, however, that they can assert themselves well when it comes to their own There are already work areas where a certain elbow mentality prevails and where people seem to have an advantage who can also be non-cooperative and can sometimes assert themselves through their rudeness or whatever behavior so that they are less likely to become unemployed. "

The controversial thesis that socially acceptable people would get out of work more quickly is to be treated with caution. Jule Specht herself limits the fact that her data do not provide any information about whether agreeable people are perhaps increasingly employed in professional fields such as the social sector, which are structurally more threatened by unemployment. This also shows the basic shortcoming of the study. Your database is very broad, but far too coarse to allow precise and differentiated statements about changes in personality. This gives you interesting hypotheses that still need to be checked in individual studies and qualitative interviews.

In any case, the study points to the moment of freedom and autonomy in the human personality. In no way is everything fixed once and for all, for better or for worse:

"For the people themselves, who now know that life events can change their personality, it means a certain kind of autonomy that they now know that they are not as they were once intended to be born, but that they can also change , depending on what situations they seek out and what decisions they make. For politics or psychotherapy or the penal system, this means that people who have shown a certain behavior are quite capable of changing, it is not that someone who has made a mistake will keep making that mistake, but that people are able to change. "