One of the major philosophical debates in psychology is the ongoing notion of personhood, and whether or not we truly remain the same person across the span our lifetimes. Despite the teenage experimental phases and trends that seem to characterize periods in our lives, it’s more likely than not that we all retain unique personality quicks that make us who we are.
Psychology and Aging have published what is known as the longest personality study in history, suggesting that throughout one’s lifespan, age has a significant effect on both one’s physical appearance and persona.
Recently noted by the British Psychological Society, the publication explains that just as the body ages and our cells are cyclically replaced, the personality too experiences its own transformation.
The study began in the 1950’s with a survey covering a sample size of 1,208 Scottish teenagers.
Teachers had been asked to assess six personality traits including: perseverance, self-confidence, mood stability, originality, conscientiousness, and interest in knowledge.
Six questionnaires were devised to measure these qualities combining the results into one trait termed “dependability”. Over sixty years since the data collection, researches successfully followed up with 174 of the total participants for a retest.
The now 77-year old participants and associated close relative or friend were asked to rate their personality on six traits once again. Researchers reported their findings stating that, “Correlations suggested no significant stability of any of the 6 characteristics or their underlying factor, dependability, over the 63-year interval”. Although their original hypothesis suggested that research would support “evidence of personality stability over an even longer period of 63 years, but our correlations did not support this hypothesis,”
With the unexpected results, researchers were surprised to see such inconsistencies when compared previously taken short term case studies of participants over just several decades. Such studies revealed a common trend of stable personality traits however this unique lifetime study suggests that personality stability is interrupted over time.
Reports form the study show, “The longer the interval between two assessments of personality, the weaker the relationship between the two tends to be”. Researches explained that the “results suggest that, when the interval is increased to as much as 63 years, there is hardly any relationship at all”.
According to psychology professor, David Funder, the “Personality refers to an individual’s characteristic patterns of thought, emotion, and behavior, together with the psychological mechanisms—hidden or not—behind those patterns”.
This poses the question of whether we could be considered the same person in old age as teenagers? Growing neuroscience research focuses on the nature of the self, suggesting some support to the ancient Buddhist belief that the stable “self” is a mere illusion.
As it is common to see changes in those we knew through childhood, seemingly all grown up beyond recognition, this research may actually suggest that our younger selves will soon be equally unrecognizable.