How personality traits develop and change over time (2023)

Personality traitsThey help make us unique individuals, but not everyone agrees on exactly how many different traits there are or what factors contribute to those traits. Is personality genetic or does environment play a bigger role in shaping who we are?

Both genetics and environment play a role in personality development, although the specific degree to which each plays a role usually depends on the specific personality trait in question.

This article looks at how personality traits are defined, whether personality is genetic, and how traits can sometimes change over time.

What are personality traits?

Traits are typically defined as the different characteristics that make up an individual's personality.personality.

Personality traits

Personality traits are relatively stable patterns of thoughts, feelings and actions that distinguish people as individuals.

personality trait theorysuggests that our personalities are made up of many different general traits. For example,extroversion(often known as extraversion) is a dimension of personality that describes how people interact with the world. Some people are very outgoing and outgoing, for example, while others are more introverted and reserved.

In the past, it was believed that personality traits change very little over a lifetime. Somelongitudinal studiesrevealed that the traits are more subtle than previously thought and that somepersonality changesThey can and do occur over time.

Is personality genetic or environmental?

What matters most when it comes to personality,nature or nurture? How much does your DNA influence your personality? Researchers have spent decades studying the family, twins, foster children and foster families to better understand how much personality isgeneticAnd how much is itenvironmental.

Both nature and nurture can play a role in personality, although large-scale twin studies suggest a strong genetic component.

Although the exact degree varies by trait, genetics play a role in personality. Twin and adoption studies indicate that human personality is about 30% to 60% heritable.

This certainly does not mean that the environment does not play a role in shaping personality. Personality traits are complex, and research suggests that both genetic and environmental factors shape traits.These two forces interact in various ways to form our individual personalities.

One of the best-known longitudinal studies examining the heritability of personality traits, the Minnesota Study of Separately Raised Twins, has long been cited as evidence that traits are primarily inherited. However, a recent critic has questioned the results, noting that important data about the control group has been excluded from publication.

A 2018 study published in the journalMolecular Psychiatryconcluded that interactions between more than 700 genes had a greater influence on certain personality traits than cultural and environmental influences.

Are people born with certain personality traits?

Are personalities born or made? The fact that children exhibit personality traits in childhood suggests that genetics play a role, but changes in personality over time also point to an empowering component.

Children show the first signs of their personality in the form oftemperament, which is estimated at 20% to 60% due to genetics.Children generally have one of three basic temperaments: easy, difficult, or slow to warm up.

But how much does childhood temperament influence personality later in life? A child's basic temperament is important in determining how he interacts with his environment. Because of this, these different interactions contribute to different experiences.

While their temperament or disposition influences their personality, they are not the same and can be quite different. Your temperament affects how you carry yourself and how you interact with your environment. Your personality, on the other hand, encompasses your beliefs, thoughts, traits, characteristics and behaviors that develop as you age.


Your temperament includes the basic dispositional traits you were born with. It's temperament that influences how you carry yourself, your social interactions and how you respond to your environment. These experiences play a role in shaping your personality development.

Types of Traits

What would you say if someone asked you to list the personality traits that best describe you? You can list a variety of traits, such as friendly, aggressive, polite, shy, outgoing, or ambitious. If you were to list every personality trait, it would likely include hundreds or even thousands of different terms used to describe different aspects of personality.

Psychologistgordon allporthe once created a list of personality traits that included over 4,000 terms.

The question of how many personality traits there are has been debated for much of psychology's history, but many psychologists today rely on what is known as the Big Five model of personality.

According tomodel two big fivePersonality is made up of five major dimensions. Individual personalities can be high, low, or in between on each of the five main traits.

Evidence suggests that these big five personality traits tend to be inherited to some extent. The five personality traits influenced by genetics are openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism, sometimes referred to by the acronym OCEAN.

  • frankness: creative, open to trying new things, happy to think about abstract concepts
  • conscientiousness: high levels of thoughtfulness, good impulse control, and goal-directed behaviors
  • Extroversion: sociability, loquacity, assertiveness and excitability
  • sympathy: trust,altruism, kindness, affection and othersprosocial behaviors
  • neuroticism: sadness, bad mood, emotional instability, worries about many different things

Most of the traits you can use to describe your own personality fall under one of these general headings. Personality traits like shy, outgoing, friendly and sociable are aspects of extraversion, while traits like kind, caring, organized and ambitious would be part of the conscientious spectrum.

Research indicates that heredity explains about 40% to 60% of the variation in the Big Five personality traits.

Each of these five characteristics represents a continuum. Some people are deficient in certain traits and high in others. In fact, many people fall somewhere in the middle of many or most of these traits.

Changes in personality traits

When it comes to some of the dominant general traits, change tends to be difficult. When this occurs, these changes tend to be very subtle.

a lotoutgoing person, for example, can become a little more reserved over time. This does not mean that they will become introverts. It simply means that there has been a subtle change and that the person's extroversion has changed slightly. The individual remains outgoing and sociable, but may also enjoy solitude or a quieter environment from time to time.

Research suggests that people tend to become more introverted as they age.

In both examples, the individual's core personality trait has not completely changed. Rather, changes over time, often as a result of experience, have led to subtle changes in these essential characteristics.

Principles of personality traits

The researchers also suggested that several basic principles emerged from personality research.

  • Principle of identity development: People develop a stronger identity as they age, and maturity brings greater commitment and maintenance of that sense of identity. During the first few years of life, people are still exploring different roles and identities. As people age, they begin to feel a stronger loyalty to the identity they've forged throughout their lives.
  • beginning of maturity: People tend to become more agreeable, emotionally stable, and socially dominant as they age.
  • principle of plasticity: Although personality traits tend to be stable, they are not immutable. They are subject to environmental influences at any stage of life.
  • Principle of continuity of functions: It is the consistency of roles that leads to continuity in personality traits, not consistency in environments.


Consistent roles in life play a role in maintaining personality stability, but personality traits can also change over a lifetime. Personality changes somewhat with age, as people develop stronger identities and become more emotionally stable.

A Word from Verywell

While research suggests that genetics play an important role in personality, it's also important to recognize that other factors play a role. In many cases, the environment influences gene expression.

Personality tends to be quite stable, but that doesn't mean it's immutable. Rather, certain factors, including age and identity, affect how personality changes over time.

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