There has been considerable research as to whether personality is static or developed. The idea of personality presupposes individual differences in tendency to behave, think, and feel in certain consistent ways. Fraley and Roberts (2005) found that personality traits were indisputably consistent across time and age. On the other hand, the perspective adopted by the contemporary personality and development research was that personality traits were organizational constructs which influenced how individuals organized their behavior to meet environmental demands and new developmental challenges (Funder, 1991). Also for Robert and Caspi (2001), personality traits were developmental constructs which demonstrated changes across life courses, often in response to the environment being mastered. This essay approaches the development of personality in various perspectives psychologists have taken.
Roberts, Caspi and Moffitt (2001) did a study to provide a comprehensive analysis of continuity and change in personality traits from adolescence to adulthood. The developmental period between ages 15 and 30 was characterized by tremendous environmental changes. Personalities of nearly 1,000 men and women aged 18 and again at 26 were assessed. A hallmark of positive growth from adolescence to adulthood Is maturing out of youthful indiscretion and developing a sense of responsibility toward others and the community. Results showed that maturity was linearly related to the levels of individual change, such that adolescents who were more mature, changed less with time and adolescents who were relatively immature showed growth in the direction of maturity during the transition to adulthood. There was a medium-sized cross-sectional gender difference in personality traits and relatively small difference in how men and women changed over time. During transition from adolescence to young adulthood, both men and women became more planful, forceful, decisive, persistent and ambitious in their work-related efforts. The personality changes observed during this transition could suggest a time of growth and increasing maturity as a form of adaption to cope with the environment.
Consistent with earlier findings, Roberts, Walton and Viechtbauer (2006) found that personality traits showed a clear pattern of normative change across the life course. Mostly in young adulthood, people became more socially dominant, conscientious, and emotionally stable. These could be attributed to the changing environment of life experiences and role expectations. Roberts et al. (2006) also addressed the question of how personality traits changes across life span and reviewed some theories of personality trait development.
According to the classical psychometric theory or trait theory model of personality development, traits remain so stable in adulthood that they are essentially “temperaments” and are not influenced by the environment (Conley, 1984). Based on Roberts et al. (2006), the exemplar trait theory of personality development in adulthood is the five-factor theory of personality. It states that traits develop through childhood and reach maturity in adulthood and are thereafter stable in “cognitively intact individuals”. This theory recognizes that personality trait development is governed by temperament or genetic factors rather than environmental influences or experiences.
On the other hand, Roberts et al. (2006) emphasizes the role of the environment on personality development. He also emphasizes the transactions between the traits and contexts across the life course. An alternative theory proposed by Roberts and Caspi (2001) was that identity processes could help explain the patterns of continuity and change in personality traits across life course. With age, a person’s identity is clarified and strengthened, which helps to explain the increasing continuity in personality traits across the life course. Overall, Roberts et al. (2006) found that personality traits changed more often in young adulthood than any other period of the life course, including adolescence. These theories are much in line with Roberts et al., (2001) that personality development occurs largely as a consequence of the expectations and experiences of individuals to cope with the environment.
Lewis (2001) presented some general models of development that deals with the study of personality development. The two main models presented were the organismic model and the contextual model. The organismic model underlies the idea of development. An example of an organismic model is the accretional model which states that a particular function, structure, or skills exists in its adult form at the beginning of development. Another example of the organismic model is the transformational model, which primary feature being successive behavior forms is irreducible to prior forms. The transformational model is also known as stage models of development where it follows a particular order and direction of change as it interacts with the environment. The additive model is a form of contextual model which takes place in interaction with the environment and coexists with earlier abilities and skills. The contextual model is used to help understand that behavior is produced to help in one’s adaptation.
To better understand the organismic and contextual models, Lewis (2001) gave an example of a child who was being raised by a mother who was depressed. The child’s condition at one year of age was influenced by the mother’s psychopathology. The researcher assumed that the child showed poor school adjustment and it could be the child’s earlier adjustment pattern that has influenced later development. The organismic model would assume that, in a trait-like-way, the events that occurred earlier produced in the child a quality that impacted behavior years later. On the other hand, the contextual model looks at the context in which the child was raised at one years of age affecting current adjustment because there was an interaction between the child and the environment. Developmental continuity located in the child and may be located in the context to which the child adapts (Lewis, 2001). The research captured the ideas that humans have selves that play a central role in their lives and in their development. In all, Lewis (2001) believes that it is essential to focus on the context of the person’s life in order to understand personality development.
In conclusion, researchers have approached the topic on the development of personality from various perspectives. To understand personality development, longitudinal studies are often carried out to provide a representative and comprehensive analysis. From the studies, personality seems to change consistently rather than being static. It appears that individual personality changes due to various factors. One of which, is to cope with the environment which is part of the process of maturation where one makes decisions and adapt to role expectations. Certain personalities such as conscientiousness and decisiveness are seen to be exhibited during maturation. To expand the knowledge of personality development providing a representative and comprehensive study, future studies identifying environmental triggers such as particular life events and specific life experiences could be done. Such information would provide a more holistic understanding of personality development and facilitate the understanding of how various environmental triggers affect personality. As current studies might be limited to its reliance on self-report measurement of personality, future studies should use a variety of methods and draw information from multiple sources. It would be interesting to study personality development over different cultures and observe if culture plays a part in shaping one’s personality.