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Can One Change Personality? Possible But Not Easy

Update Date: Jan 23, 2017 09:10 AM EST
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One's personality is not static and can change in response to therapy according to new research. However, the process will not be easy.

A review of 207 observational research papers, published in the journal of Psychological Bulletin, suggests that the personality is not static. Brent Roberts, social and personality psychologist at University of Illinois, believes that personality change may happen if one is willing to focus and do the process systematically.

In 2010, a research lead by Christopher Nave of University of California has revealed that personality of a first grader will depict his behaviour in adult life. Impulsive kids will turn out to be talkative and expansive, while restrained children will become insecure and timid.

Nave looked at 2,400 school children from grades one to six who were videotaped in 1960. Forty years later, 144 of them were interviewed. Their personality traits - including talkativeness, adaptability, impulsiveness and self-minimizing behaviour - were already recognizable even when they were young.

Talkative children showed interest in intellectual matters, while those rated with low verbal fluency exhibited an awkward interpersonal style in their adult life. Children who were rated as highly adaptable became cheerful and able to speak fluently.

However, Roberts is challenging those findings. His team finds that people are more conscientious and emotionally stable as they go to adulthood and midlife. A craving for new experience is high in teenage life, but declines in old age.

The biggest personality change Roberts found out after therapy is the level of neuroticism which is usually marked by anxiety, fear, jealousy and other negative emotions. As people age, they become less neurotic. According to the new research, three months of psychological treatment could significantly lower neuroticism by half.

Another personality trait that changed after psychological intervention is extraversion. The type of therapy used did not matter to get the result, but psychotherapy was associated with higher changes than drug therapies. However, hospitalization did not result in any personality changes for those with psychiatric problems.

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