Sample Essay on The Development of Personality

The development of personality

The change in mean levels of personality traits during adulthood have been predicted by diverse theories which bring forth different arguments and understanding to the development of personality. The biological perspective of the five-factor theory presents the plaster hypothesis. This theory argues that the development of all personality traits comes to a halt by the age of 30. On the other hand, contextual perspectives argue that changes in personality should be more persistent and varied all through adulthood (Srivastava, John,Gosling, & Potter, 2003).

Many psychologists since William James have strived to understand the change in personality during adulthood, whether various phases of personality change significantly during adulthood, including personality traits, and when the changes manifest (Jung, 2014). Theories that explained what personality traits were gave rise to contemporary hypotheses on the development of personality (Comrey, 1988). Costa and McCrae’s five-factor theory argues that personality traits stem solely from biological factors such as genes, which attain full maturity during adulthood. As a result, the theory argues that there will be little or no noticeable change on an individual’s personality after early adulthood (Jung, 2014).

On the other hand, the contextual perspective argues that personalities are as a result of multiple factors, with an individual’s social environment being one of the most important factors affecting one’s traits. Therefore, the contextual view foresees flexibility. This implies that change is complex and always in progress, as a result of the numerous factors that can influence the development of personality (Comrey, 1988).

The perception of personality can be understood as the outline of stable beliefs, deeds, and moods that vary from one person to the other living in a particular society. Characteristics differentiating individuals across cultures that existed during different historical times will not be identical. This is due to the fact that the most adaptive traits differ in value from one society to the other, and across different historical times. For instance, an essay done three centuries back by a new England Puritan would have included piety as a key psychological characteristic. That however would not be considered as a major personality trait in the modern America (Jung, 2014).

Personality refers to the characteristics or combination of traits that make an individual unique (Jung, 2014). Allport defines personality as the dynamic organization within the individual of the psychophysical systems that dictates the individual’s behavioral traits and thoughts (Rothbart, 2007). Freud’s theory of personality development argues that personality is a composition of three major factors which include instinctual drives e.g., hostility, food, sex, early influence during childhood (psychosexual stage) more so from parents, and unconscious processes (Rothbart, 2007).

Freud’s theory asserts that the development of personality is dependent upon the interrelation between environment and instinct during the first five years of an individual’s life(Johnson et al., 2011). This implies that the parents’ behavior can critically affect normal or abnormal development. As a result, problems of mental health and personality during adulthood can often be traced back to the first five years of one’s life (Johnson et al., 2011).

Modern theories emphasize that personality traits have more to do with individual achievement, independence, sociability with outsiders, internalized conscience, and, the ability to control strong impulses and feelings. This research paper is set out to understand the changes in personality traits during early childhood, all the way up to early and mid-adulthood by critically examining theories on the development of personality. The paper discusses in depth the findings from prior researchers, and finally concludes in a comprehensive conclusion.


Some of the most influential theories explaining contemporary psychoanalysis and psychology were developed by Freud. In his theories, he divides the mind into two major sections, the subconscious and conscious (Comrey, 1988). By looking into the underlying factors that compel the behaviors in humans, Freud came up with new levels of concepts in the development of personality and human thought. Freud argues that the subconscious mind holds potential thoughts that one may have, and the desires that control a person’s behavior without their awareness (Caspi, Roberts, & Shiner, 2005). This region of the mind is responsible for storing the things that a person has no idea that they know.

The regulations within the society compels one’s self to repress given aspects of themselves, and the subconscious mind serves as storage for the collection of repressed aspects (Caspi et al., 2005). Most of a person’s inner desires are too disturbing to the society and the conscious mind to cope with directly. As a result, such desires and secrets are buried into a region that one cannot face directly, the subconscious mind (Caspi et al., 2005).

A person’s ego is what is responsible for repression of subconscious thoughts. Whenever things are too uncomfortable to deal with immediately, the ego pushes them out of conscious into the subconscious zone (Comrey, 1988). The subconscious mind, however, continues to exercise influence on the individual’s behavior without their knowledge. A continuous battle is thus created between the subconscious portions of the psyche and the ego resulting from psychological pressure.

There are three major distinct but interactive mental parts that were conceptualized by Freud, the Id, ego, and superego. The id is responsible for all drives within a person, including biological drives such as death and sex drives (Johnson et al., 2011). The id is also responsible for storage of the repression that is passed from the conscious mind by the superego. Our behaviors are guided by beliefs and ideologies which exist in the superego (Rothbart, 2007).The conscious mind process of coping with the environment and rational decision making, among others, is regulated by the ego. The flow of unwieldy drives within the conscious mind is restricted by the superego (Rothbart, 2007).

Freud’s trait approach to personality assumes that relatively stable traits, being the central unit of an individual’s personality, are the determinants of a person’s behavior. Often, a person’s traits would incline them to act in a particular manner, irrespective of the situation (Caspi et al., 2005). This implies that a person’s traits should be consistent over time and through different situations, even though the personalities may vary from one individual to the other. The variation in traits from one person to the other is presumed to be caused by genetic differences (Comrey, 1988).

A summary of past studies on mean-level change on the Big Five rationally characterized a wide range of traits into the Big Five domains (Srivastava et al., 2003). The literature then summarized common mean-level change patterns across studies. The summary arrive at the conclusion that agreeableness and conscientiousness appeared to increase during adulthood, openness displayed mixed results across studies, neuroticism appeared to decrease, and extraversion displayed no universal pattern of variation at the factor level (Srivastava et al., 2003).

Particular studies by different researchers have reported this basic pattern of findings with some arguing that context is what affects personality, while others base their argument strictly on biological interpretations (Jung, 2014). However, the contextual and biological perspectives have major disagreement over the possible differences between personality development in men and women, as well as the timing of changes within the course of life (Srivastava et al., 2003).

The five-factor theory argues that personality traits are not affected by direct environmental influence, (Srivastava et al., 2003). There by insinuating that they are entirely affected by biological factors. The theory goes further in argument by stating that the development of personality occurs during childhood and attain their limit to develop during adulthood where development comes to an almost complete stop by the age of 30(Jung, 2014). The maturity in personal development is said to last all through middle age up to old age when changes in development may occur due to cognitive decline (Johnson et al., 2011). This pattern of change is referred to as the plaster hypothesis, introduced by William James (Srivastava et al., 2003) who argued that a person’s development of personality was “set like plaster” by the age of 30.

The hypothesis stated that, after the age of 30, there were insignificant, or completely no changes in the Big Five traits of personality development (Jung, 2014). The five-factor theory, even though in agreement with the plaster hypothesis for the best part, argues that the plaster hypothesis requires minor revision due to the fact that studies have depicted changes in personality traits mean levels after the age of 30. The theory however construes the changes as being caused by the inherent biological process of maturity as opposed to social influences (Srivastava et al., 2003).

Contextual theories argue that there is a continuous development on one’s personality all through adulthood (Srivastava et al., 2003). In contrast, contextual theories foresee different changes in traits at different times in life, and also, they are more varied compared to the five factor theory. In some cases, contextual theories predict different changes in development for women as well as men. Contextual theories argue that a person’s personality would vary depending on their immediate relationship with their environment. The theories suggest that social surroundings, social duties, and, life events in the course of one’s life, which are major factors that influence a person’s basic personality traits (Jung, 2014).

There has been a lot of focus on the transactions between experiences, individuals, and personalities by a number of researchers (Srivastava et al., 2003). These researchers look at individuals as active agents playing a vital role in the shaping and selection of their environments, which in turn affect their personalities (Srivastava et al., 2003). For instance, traits such as ambition and openness predicted the level of involvement of women in the 1960s and 70s movement. Their involvement in the movement resulted into an increment in ambition and openness (Srivastava et al., 2003).

Research on the relations between an individual and the environment major their focus on addressing the personal differences in change even though the transactional viewpoint can be used to understand variations in mean-level. Differences in personalities from one person to another is responsible for different individual experiences which then affects their personalities (Jung, 2014).Normative changes also affect changes in personality equivalently in their own capacity through preparing people for normative grownup roles (Srivastava et al., 2003). Therefore, the transactional perspective on changes in mean-levels of personalities would draw most of its focus on transitions that are experienced by a large group of people.

Arguably, there are three social role domains that most significantly undergo changes during the early and middle stages of adulthood. These domains include parenting, work, and marriage. Parenting is involved in the duty of procreation, work in the duty of identity and consolidation, and marriage in the duty of intimacy (Srivastava et al., 2003). Even though there is variation in timing of when to undertake in the above mentioned domains from one individual to another, there are normative age ranges for undertaking the roles (Srivastava et al., 2003), which implies that they may be connected to the typical mean-level changes in personality.

Other than normative changes in social roles, other theories present the possibility of changes in the development of personality after the age of 30. Individuals get better at controlling their emotions with age which implies that the older one grows, the fewer number of times they would experience negative emotions (Srivastava et al., 2003). This is indication of persistence in the reduction of neuroticism levels with increase in age. The socio-emotional selectivity theory argues that, as people grow older, the lesser interest they would have in meeting new people and learning new things and the more interest they would have in keeping their relationships with close friends (Srivastava et al., 2003), an indication of reduction in levels of extraversions and openness, and increase in agreeableness.

Gender roles in the society could also affect the development of personality. This is due to the fact that men and women, in most cases, would experience different gender-based social experiences (Jung, 2014).Men and women are most likely to develop differences in the development of neuroticism. Adolescent boys depict lower levels of neuroticism that girls (Srivastava et al., 2003). However, studies of succeeding development during middle adulthood have found the coping skills and self-confidence in women increased with age, implying a decrease in their neuroticism levels (Srivastava et al., 2003). In a nutshell, the contextual perspective deviates from the assumption of the five-factor theory that all the Big Five under no change beyond the age of 30. The contextual perspective asserts that the Big Five dimensions may be affected by a variety of developmental processes.

A research study conducted in 2003 to test the different theories and hypotheses had variation in its findings. The researchers began by testing both the soft and hard plaster hypothesis. The soft plaster hypothesis argues that there is insignificant change in personality development after the age of 30 compared to before while the hard plaster hypothesis argues that there is completely no change in the Big Five dimension affecting personality after the age of 30 (Srivastava et al., 2003).

Results from the study disagreed with the hard plaster hypothesis on consciousness in both men and women, however, agreed with the soft plaster hypothesis as the changes before the age of 30 were more significant compared to those after for both men and women (Srivastava et al., 2003). The results did show however that even though the changes slowed down a bit, they clearly did not come to a halt.

Findings on agreeableness differed greatly with both the soft and hard plaster hypothesis. Agreeableness was found to increase significantly beyond the age of 30 up to 60 for both women and men, contrary to the predictions of the hard plaster hypothesis (Srivastava et al., 2003). The findings also disqualified the soft plaster hypothesis as the change in the level of agreeableness was found to be greater from the age of 30 to 60 compared to below 30 (Srivastava et al., 2003).

When it came to neuroticism, the study discovered different results for both women and men. Women were found to have consistently reducing levels of neuroticism in contrast to men who did not show any significant difference in the levels of neuroticism in either of the age samples below and above 30 which was in agreement with the hard plaster hypothesis. The findings on women disregarded the soft plaster hypothesis as there was no significant reduction in the rate of neuroticism between women of the ages of 21-30 and 31-60 (Srivastava et al., 2003).

There was a significant reduction in the level of openness in both women and men after the age of 30 which contradicted the hard plaster hypothesis. However, there was no significant difference in the age effects for openness from zero for the ages between 21 and 30 (Srivastava et al., 2003). The reduction in the level of openness in men after the age of 30 was found to be greater than the increase, up to the age of 30, (Srivastava et al., 2003) disregarding the soft plaster hypothesis. There was also no significant difference between the rates of decline in openness after the age of 30 compared to increase up to the age of 30, thereby disagreeing with the soft plaster hypothesis (Srivastava et al., 2003).

Extraversion was found to reduce significantly in women between the ages of 31 and 60, with the increase in men between the same age being very weak and hardly noticeable. The results contradicted the hard plaster hypothesis, however, agreed with the soft plaster hypothesis for men (Srivastava et al., 2003). The soft plaster hypothesis was however not confirmed for women as there was no significant difference in the strength of increase in extraversion from the ages of 21 to 30 compared to the ages of 31 to 60 (Srivastava et al., 2003). The overall results found no widespread support for both the soft and hard plaster hypothesis. Of the five dimensions tested in 10 tests, five for each gender, only one fit the hard plaster hypothesis, with only four agreeing with the soft version (Srivastava et al., 2003).

During the same study, the pattern of the Big Five domains of personality development was tested against the effects of age and gender. The findings from the research indicated accelerated increase in consciousness at the age of 20s which was attributed to the patterns of change in partnerships (marriages) and work during the same age. The increase in consciousness would then continue to grow past the 20s even though at a much slower rate (Srivastava et al., 2003). The interpretation of the findings indicated a decelerated growth in consciousness during you age, highly accelerated growth in early adulthood, which is finally followed by decelerated growth during later ages in life (Srivastava et al., 2003).

Agreeableness is associated with raising and nurturing of children. In this case, it would be expected that the level of agreeableness would have the highest increase between the ages of 20s and 30s. During the study, the level of agreeableness was found to accelerate in the late 20s, continuing rapidly all the way through the 30s before decelerating in the 40s (Srivastava et al., 2003). The duration with the highest rate of increase in agreeableness coincided with the ages at which most individuals would be in the process of nurturing children and giving birth (Srivastava et al., 2003). The results also found difference in increment in the rate of agreeableness across genders. For instance, women in general were found to have increased levels of agreeableness compared to men, which was associated with them being involved more directly in nurturing duties more than men (Srivastava et al., 2003).

Tests on neuroticism found substantial decline in women’s levels of neuroticism all through adulthood, with men depicting a moderate decline (Srivastava et al., 2003). Openness was found to have a slight decline with an increase in age for both women and men, which was consistent with findings from prior researches (Srivastava et al., 2003). The results also indicated that at the beginning of adulthood, men’s levels of openness were higher but then reduced at a faster rate than that of women. Extraversion was also found to increase slightly in men with increase in age, with women experiencing a small decrease (Srivastava et al., 2003).

Discussion and conclusion

There are two main views that look into the development of personality, the nomothetic view and the idiographic view. The nomothetic view focuses on comparability between people. It assumes that traits bare the same psychological meaning in every individual. Therefore, the nomothetic view applies factor analysis and personality self-report questions. The idiographic view on the other hand asserts that each individual has their own distinctive psychological structure, and some personality traits can only be found in one individual with other (Rothbart, 2007). This view, in most cases, uses cases studies in the process of gathering information.

It is also important however to take into consideration the influence and interaction resulting from biological factors such as genetics and nature such as the environment on the development of personality. Personality theories focusing on traits argue that personality is based on biological factors, while on the other hand, social learning theories stress the effect of the environment and nature in influencing an individual’s personality. The theories on the development of personality are however not strong enough due to the methods used during research. This has led to the numerous misunderstandings and differences in research reports and findings on the same (Comrey, 1988).

For instance, there is over-reliance on questionnaires that are more than often filled out by the responses of older children, or parents of children, or the respondents themselves, as opposed to making observations on the behaviors of the respondents first hand (Rothbart, 2007).There is also the problem of focus in the researches, as most reports focus on a specific age bracket, either young, medium, or old instead of focusing on all the ages from young children to old adults in order to come up with more accurate and actionable results.

The development of personality is influenced by a variety of factors. However, the major factors effecting the changes in personality include sociability, ease of arousal, activity level, irritability, and fearfulness (Comrey, 1988). Empirical contributions to personality include educational success or failure, early relationships with attachments, identification with one’s parents, perceived level of physical attractiveness, socialization with parents, experiences with other individuals, ordinal position in one’s family, and class and ethnic groups (Caspi et al., 2005). There are however some unforeseeable experiences that could affect the development of personality, experiences such as mental illness within the family, divorce, early death of one’s parent, and other supporting relationships with other individuals (Jung, 2014).

Challenges faced by individuals within a given culture to which they must cope with, form part of the roots in significant personality profiles. For instance, a majority of children have to face three major classes of external challenges: unfamiliarity, attack by, or domination by other children, and conformity (Caspi et al., 2005). Children must also learn to cope control their emotions of resentment, anger, and jealousy on one hand and fear, guilt, and anxiety on the other hand.

Arguably, identification is the most significant influence on an individual’s personality.For instance, children at the age of 6 will most likelyshoulder some of their parents’ traits as their own, indirectly experiencing feelings that are appropriate to their parents’ experience (Comrey, 1988). The relevance of the process of identification cannot be overlooked in the development of personality. For instance, a 6-year-old girl identifying with her mother will feel shame is her mother is criticized by her friends and pride should the mother win an award or receive praises from her friends (Rothbart, 2007).

We may be left wondering what makes us progress in our own individual capacities. Obviously, the drive for life accelerates personal progress, and the quest for coherence and balance within the mind propels individuals towards doing things that are generally acceptable within the society (Jung, 2014). In Freud’s argument, the development of personality is fueled by the desire for immediate solutions to the problems faced by humans (Jung, 2014). However, when we consider the scenario of an unhappy artist constantly looking to push the limits, without ever finding satisfaction aside from experiencing discomfort, or the patient who repeats poor behavior, then Freud’s theory would be deemed incomplete. Motivation is surely not a simple thing to comprehend.

In the process of testing the plaster hypothesis on the development of personality, there was significant contradicting evidence and a general lack of support. There was a gradual but systematic variation in the mean-levels of personality traits all through an individual’s life, sometimes varying more beyond the age of 30 than before (Rothbart, 2007). It is important to note however, that even with all the age personality development statistics, it would still be extremely difficult to foretell someone’s traits based on age patterns from research findings. This is due to the variation in biological genes, family and peer influence which varies from one person to another, and individual development of experiences (Rothbart, 2007).

There is a noticeable common assumption that is shared by personality theories that position traits at the core of every significant factor affecting the development of personality. These theories all assume that traits and the rest of the personality system are apart. They assert that traits are static in nature and are thus not affected by life contexts and social environments (Srivastava et al., 2003).The older individuals grow, the more influence culture has on their personalities, and how well they relate with their environment (Srivastava et al., 2003).

During early adulthood, when most individuals are getting into the work force, facing tasks in life that are paired to changes in conscientiousness, and forming partnerships with commitments, there are considerable changes in conscientiousness. Agreeableness had the greatest variation during adulthood, especially when majority are taking care of children(Srivastava et al., 2003). Several processes may interlink the changes in personality to changes in the environment. For instance, taking the case of consciousness, changes in maturity may push people to look for roles that would match their newly acquired personalities. Equally, individuals may be compelled to be more organized by adult roles resulting from commitments from relationships and new responsibilities at work.

Transactional perspectives of personality development are quite important. For instance, Erickson (Srivastava et al., 2003) argued that development in adults was fueled by a combination of major challenges that emanated from cultural and biological imperatives. Generativity, identity, and intimacy are evident in adults’ efforts to take care of others, to become self-sufficient through working, and to find a companion. All these factors are stimulated by biological obligations however; they are found in particular socio-historical contexts even though they are played out in the territory of adult social life (Srivastava et al., 2003).

In Neugarten’s theory (Jung, 2014), it is argued that social environments and biology have placed broad limits on the development of personality in adults, within which each individual interprets their own distinct experiences (Jung, 2014). Neugarten’s theory is in agreement with the study on mean-level changes which touches on the particular limits featured by Neugarten’s theory. According to Roberts, increase in maturity in adults can be clearly indicated by reducing levels of neuroticism and increasing levels of agreeableness and consciousness (Srivastava et al., 2003). This implies that individual adopt better to their environment as they grow older. It also implies that the development of personality continues well into mid-adulthood.


Johnson, J. G., PhD., Liu, L., M.A., & Cohen, P., PhD. (2011). Parenting behaviors associated with the development of adaptive and maladaptive offspring personality traits. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 56(8), 447-56.

Srivastava, S., John, O. P., Gosling, S. D., & Potter, J. (2003). Development of personality in early and middle adulthood: set like plaster or persistent change? Journal of Personality And Social Psychology84(5), 1041.

Caspi, A., Roberts, B. W., & Shiner, R. L. (2005). Personality Development: Stability and change. Annual Review of Psychology, 56, 453-484.

Jung, C. G. (2014). The development of personality. London: Routledge.

Rothbart, M. K. (2007). Temperament, development, and personality. Current Directions in Psychological Science16(4), 207-212.

Comrey, A. L. (1988). Factor-analytic methods of scale development in personality and clinical psychology. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology56(5), 754.