Development of personality in early and middle adulthood: set like plaster or persistent change?

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2003 May;84(5):1041-53. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.84.5.1041.


Different theories make different predictions about how mean levels of personality traits change in adulthood. The biological view of the Five-factor theory proposes the plaster hypothesis: All personality traits stop changing by age 30. In contrast, contextualist perspectives propose that changes should be more varied and should persist throughout adulthood. This study compared these perspectives in a large (N = 132,515) sample of adults aged 21-60 who completed a Big Five personality measure on the Internet. Conscientiousness and Agreeableness increased throughout early and middle adulthood at varying rates; Neuroticism declined among women but did not change among men. The variety in patterns of change suggests that the Big Five traits are complex phenomena subject to a variety of developmental influences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Personality Development*
  • Personality Inventory / statistics & numerical data
  • Regression Analysis
  • Sex Distribution
  • Time Factors