Theory-driven intervention for changing personality: expectancy value theory, behavioral activation, and conscientiousness

Dev Psychol. 2014 May;50(5):1442-50. doi: 10.1037/a0030583. Epub 2012 Oct 29.


Considerable evidence suggests that personality traits may be changeable, raising the possibility that personality traits most linked to health problems can be modified with intervention. A growing body of research suggests that problematic personality traits may be altered with behavioral intervention using a bottom-up approach. That is, by targeting core behaviors that underlie personality traits with the goal of engendering new, healthier patterns of behavior that, over time, become automatized and manifest in changes in personality traits. Nevertheless, a bottom-up model for changing personality traits is somewhat diffuse and requires clearer integration of theory and relevant interventions to enable real clinical application. As such, this article proposes a set of guiding principles for theory-driven modification of targeted personality traits using a bottom-up approach, focusing specifically on targeting the trait of conscientiousness using a relevant behavioral intervention, Behavioral Activation (BA), considered within the motivational framework of expectancy value theory (EVT). We conclude with a real case example of the application of BA to alter behaviors counter to conscientiousness in a substance-dependent patient, highlighting the EVT principles most relevant to the approach and the importance and viability of a theoretically driven, bottom-up approach to changing personality traits.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Behavior Therapy / methods*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / therapy
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Personality*