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J Pers Soc Psychol. 2011 Mar;100(3):545-56. doi: 10.1037/a0022409.

Genetic and environmental influences on personality trait stability and growth during the transition to adulthood: a three-wave longitudinal study.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824-1116, USA.


During the transition to adulthood individuals typically settle into adult roles in love and work. This transition also involves significant changes in personality traits that are generally in the direction of greater maturity and increased stability. Competing hypotheses have been offered to account for these personality changes: The intrinsic maturation hypothesis suggests that change trajectories are endogenous, whereas the life-course hypothesis suggests that these changes occur because of transactions with the social environment. This study investigated the patterns and origins of personality trait changes from ages 17 to 29 using 3 waves of Multidimensional Personality Questionnaire data provided by twins. Results suggest that (a) trait changes were more profound in the first relative to the second half of the transition to adulthood; (b) traits tend to become more stable during the second half of this transition, with all the traits yielding retest correlations between .74 and .78; (c) Negative Affectivity declined over time, and Constraint increased over time; minimal change was observed on agentic or communal aspects of Positive Emotionality; and (d) both genetic and nonshared environmental factors accounted for personality changes. Overall, these genetically informed results support a life-course perspective on personality development during the transition to adulthood.

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