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Assessment. 2000 Dec;7(4):365-78.

Personality at midlife: stability, intrinsic maturation, and response to life events.

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Laboratory of Personality and Cognition, Intramural Research Program, National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health, Baltimore, MD 21224, USA.


Although developmental theories and popular accounts suggest that midlife is a time of turmoil and change, longitudinal studies of personality traits have generally found stability of rank order and little or no change in mean levels. Using data from 2,274 men and women in their 40s retested after 6 to 9 years, the present study examined two hypotheses: (a) that retest correlations should be no higher than about .60 and (b) that there should be small decreases in Neuroticism, Extraversion, and Openness, and small increases in Agreeableness and Conscientiousness. The study also explored the effects of recalled life events on subsequent personality scores. Results did not support the first hypothesis; uncorrected retest correlations uniformly exceeded .60. This was true for all personality traits, including facets of Agreeableness and Conscientiousness not previously included in longitudinal studies. The hypothesized decreases in Neuroticism, Extraversion, and Openness were found, but Conscientiousness showed a small decrease instead of the predicted increase. Life events in general showed very little influence on the levels of personality traits, although some effects were seen for changes in job and marital status that warrant further research.

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