Monday, January 05, 2009

Recent Research on 'Openness to Change', and Other Personality Traits

Justin Wehr mentions on his blog that there is a recent article in Scientific American which discusses research findings on the personality trait: 'openness to change'. According to the article, people become increasingly open to change until they reach about age 30; at that point the trait begins a gradual decline. In the article, one suggested explanation is that people need to be open to change when they are looking for a mate, but once they settle down and have kids, they have a greater need for security.

Myself and Liam have been reading for some time about evidence on whether there is stability in personality traits such as 'openness to change'. An argument in favour of this viewpoint is that there are 'powerful forces' for stability (genes and habit), according to Borghans et al. (2008) . However, the literature on the stability of personality traits over the life cycle has mixed findings.

An 'extreme but common' view among psychologists is that mean-level change in personality is nearly impossible after early adulthood (Borghans et al., 2008). However, it is also suggested that the greatest mean-level change in most personality traits takes place in young adulthood (i.e. early 20's) (Borghans et al., 2008). An exception is the trait of sensation seeking (which is linked to risk aversion); there is a dramatic peak in sensation seeking during adolescence (Spear, 2000).

According to Borghans et al. (2008), less is known about the stability of 'preferences in economic decision-making', in comparison to the stability of personality traits. No longitudinal study has measured the mean-level stability of time preference over the life cycle (Frederick et al., 2002). Sahm (2007) shows that risk aversion is not a perfectly stable characteristic over the lifecycle and that it increases with age.

Even if preferences in the economic decision-making of a cohort change as the cohort gets older, myself and Liam have argued that there is still a mean-level in the cohort preferences --- which is relatively stable over a relatively short time frame e.g. the enrolment duration of undergraduate students. Given this, as well as the evidence for an adolescent peak in sensation-seeking, we present the argument that the non-cognitive personality traits of students are not endogenous in an empirical model of human capital investment during higher education. This argument is enhanced by the findings mentioned in Scientific American - that 'openness to change' generally does not start to decline until age 30 and later.

Other recent research and meta-analyses of previous studies, indicate that change occurs in all of the major ('Big Five') personality traits at various points in the lifespan. On average, levels of agreeableness and conscientiousness typically increase with time, whereas extraversion, neuroticism, and openness tend to decrease (Srivastava, S., John, O. P., Gosling, S. D., and Potter, J.; 2003). In addition to these group effects, there are individual differences: different people demonstrate unique patterns of change at all stages of life (Roberts, B. W., and Mroczek, D.; 2008). However, it should also be remembered that the 'Big Five' is thought to refer to traits that are not context-dependent (McAdams, D. P., 1995).

No comments: