Does your personality change over time?

“People don’t change!” It’s a common expression, but is it true?

Can our personalities change over time? How much?

When we talk about personality, we are referring to individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. Psychologists have been studying and finding ways to measure personality for decades.

Recent studies have looked at whether your personality changes during your life and how that affects your behaviour and decision making. The results suggest that your personality does change, but often not very much and usually very, very slowly over the course of your lifetime, and generally for the better.

In essence a young adult who is conscientious, is most likely to remain conscientious throughout their life, or even become a little more conscientious as they mature.

How can we measure personality and its ability to change?

To understand how we know this, first we need to ask if it’s possible to measure someone’s character traits? This was once a matter of debate, but there is growing research to support that, not only can the character traits be measured, but that they do impact behaviour.

There are many approaches to evaluating personality, one of the most widespread is the concept of the ‘Big Five’ personality traits. The Big Five model states that personality can be summarised in five core areas; conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness to experience and extraversion. Individuals are sorted on a scale of how much or how strongly they present each trait.

Character traits have also shown a relationship to behavioural outcomes. For example, individuals who score high levels of conscientiousness has been shown to have better education outcomes and job performance.

Graphic showing the big five personality traits

So, does your personality change through your life?

Yes and no. Research shows that personality traits are both stable and changeable.

Researchers have found that for most people, their big five scores remain relatively stable throughout their life. Where there has been any shift, these are generally for the better. For example, agreeableness and conscientiousness increases slightly with age.  People may become more patient and pay more attention to detail as they get older.

An essay published by NPR explained, “And while personality traits are relatively stable over time, they can and often do gradually change across the life span. What’s more, those changes are usually for the better. Many studies … show that most adults become more agreeable, conscientious and emotionally resilient as they age. But these changes tend to unfold across years or decades, rather than days or weeks. Sudden, dramatic changes in personality are rare.”

This is an area of study that is advancing all the time and we are learning more and more about how personality and character traits affect decision making and behaviour.

Personality and willingness to repay a loan

These findings align with our own experience at Begini. We have found that while someone’s financial position can change, and sometimes quite substantially in a short space of time through no fault of their own (e.g. lockdowns), there is a resilience in core character traits.

An individual who is conscientious when their financial position is strong, is likely to remain conscientious through financial challenges. Our models are built on features that are shown to be stable over time.  

For lenders who are looking for new ways to lend through uncertain times, the inclusion of character-based insights into their processes, can help find the good borrowers that traditional credit assessment can’t see.

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