An upcoming publication in the Journal of Social, Psychological, and Personality Science (lead author Christopher Nave) indicates that our personality traits seem to be set at very early ages. This does not mean that people can’t change; it’s a more difficult process, but it can occur.
Drs. Goldberg and Hampson (Oregon Research Institute and UC Riverside) have been studying the results from the Hawaii Personality and Health Cohort (HPHC) for some time. The HPHC evaluated some 2000 students in Hawaii from 1959 to 1967 (by their teachers). These assessments were designed and led by John Digman. (Digman, some 20 years later, codified the Five Factors of Personality (OCEAN, sometimes called CANOE). These traits are: Openness [Inventive, curiosity (as opposed to consistency or caution). These individuals also inclined to the arts, adventure, and experiences], Conscientiousness [Organized (not careless) and efficient. These individuals exhibit self-discipline, achievement orientation, and are not known for spontaneity], Extraversion [Outgoing, energetic. These are high energy individuals who seek stimulation], Agreeableness [Friendly and Compassionate (not outspoken or competitive). These individuals tend to be cooperative rather than antagonistic or suspicious of others], and Neuroticism [More sensitive and nervous (as opposed to confident or secure). These individuals do not handle unpleasant emotions well].
The cohort were re-interviewed in a medical clinic from 1998-2002. This new paper (seemingly related to two PhD theses) discusses a further examination of a random selection of 144 of the re-evaluations more carefully. This re-examination indicates that by the first grade, our personality traits are pretty firmly established. Four personality attributes were discussed in this paper: verbal fluency, adaptability, impulsiveness, and self-minimizing behavior.
The researchers found that children that demonstrated unrestrained talkativeness developed into adults that tended to control their situations and were intellectually curious. This same situation prevailed with adaptive children (those that coped well with new situations). The opposite traits (those children with low verbal fluency or low adaptability) developed into adults that sought advice and were driven back when faced with obstacles.
Impulsive children grew into adults who spoke loudly, were talkative, and had wide-ranging interests. Those scoring low on impulsiveness grew into timid adults, who expressed insecurity. Self-minimizing children grew to be humble adults, expressed insecurity, and frequently expressed negative attributes for themselves (basically the opposite of the impulsive children and adults). Those children that ranked low on the self-minimizing scale grew to be adults who spoke loudly, exhibited condescending behavior, and had wide-ranging intellectual interests.