How is our character formed? What effect do genetic and environmental factors have on our character? How does our childhood affect our character? So, can our character change later?
The French-language magazine Cerveau et Psycho (Brain and Psychology) deals with the issue of personality in its July 2019 issue and seeks answers to these questions in its large dossier. We have compiled the article for hthayat.com, which explains how personality can change later on.
we can change everything
Michel Hansenne of the University of Liège, who started the subject by saying that personality governs our behavior and thoughts, summarizes the ideas that he will present in the following sections of his article: “Personality is shaped by the experiences and learning that determine who we will be until the beginning of adulthood, although under the influence of genetic factors that we cannot determine.”
Hansenne references research. Many studies show that deep dimensions of personality remain constant to some extent, making it possible to reliably predict how an individual will behave in a given situation. There is a strong connection between the characters of young children and their adult personalities. “A shy, cautious child is undoubtedly anxious and introverted in his adulthood; If he is a curious and cheerful child, he will most likely be an extrovert.” Can we think, then, that we can change our personality from now on?
“Yes, fortunately personality can evolve,” says Hansenne. “First of all, naturally with age; then, depending on the different events we’ve been through. In addition, the character can be transformed by the effect of therapies. Before addressing these three points, it is necessary to understand well that the character is a whole. In other words, there are no extroverts and introverts. In contrast, the person can be rated on a scale of 0 to 100 for introversion-extraversion. Measuring the personality enables the individual’s position on this scale to be determined. Most people are in the middle of the 0 to 100 line, which indicates that they are introverted or extroverted, depending on the situation. However, the further one moves away from the midpoint, the more specific, visible, and less easy their behavior becomes.”
For example, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to persuade a very shy person to lecture in front of 300 people. This can only be possible if the person is not very shy or even extroverted. Likewise, a reckless person cannot prevent him from doing what he wants. If his spontaneity is moderate and he is someone who really thinks before he acts, he can prevent it. That is, the more extreme the person’s behaviors are, the harder it is to change those behaviors. Personality can “conditionally” change, says Hansenne. He states that an extrovert cannot be an introvert, and a tolerant and warm-hearted person can never turn into an intolerant and distant person.
“Personality evolves throughout life. However, it is fixed towards the age of 30. According to studies that observed individuals between the ages of 21-96, personality changes very little between the ages of 30-36. This suggests that the individual variation of personality, though still present, declines with age. Behaviors become more stable when a person can achieve a coherent vision of himself by recognizing and accepting his or her abilities, setting clear goals. So in the third decade of life, in the thirties, personality changes less.”
We believe our choice was right when we are connected
However, it is necessary not to believe that everything has definitely changed after the age of 36, even though we sometimes think so, for example saying: “Now, I know clearly who I am and what I have to do, my decision is right.” Academic Hansenne explains this by giving the example of those who get married believing that they have found the perfect match, and those who get tattoos that they will enjoy wearing on their skin for the rest of their lives: “When we bond, we believe our choice was right. We call this the ‘end of change illusion’.”
In 2013, a study by Harvard University’s Jordi Quoidbach and colleagues showed that we underestimate the change in personality as time goes on. To put it another way, a 35-year-old who realizes that he has changed for five years thinks that from then on he can no longer change, but when he turns 40 his character will be reshaped. In fact, this change can be observed in a 70-year-old individual, although to a lesser extent.
While personality variability decreases with age, the five main dimensions of character are age-related and are the same for almost every individual. Indeed, as extraversion, openness (to new idioms) and emotional lability (neuroticism) decrease with age, harmony and consciousness increase.
“These relationships are descriptive and describe personality simply: For example, extroversion represents the need to be with others, the pursuit of excitement, and the need to be constantly active. These attitudes are likely to decrease with age. Consciousness includes respect for rules and order, such as behaviors that develop with age and experience, and being more planned. For example, although we book six months in advance to visit different regions, at 65 we are less enthusiastic than at age 30 to cross the Sahara Desert or explore South America with a backpack. However, there are still older people who are more extroverted and spontaneous than the younger ones! It all depends on the person.”
Genetic and environmental influences can shape our character
Genetic predisposition leads each individual to choose certain environments and environments. While a shy child will usually gravitate towards activities and experiences that he will perform alone, an inquisitive and extroverted child chooses activities that he will engage in and perform with others. An adolescent exhibiting volatile emotional behavior is self-isolating. A happy person has more positive experiences than a sad person.
Changes in some environmental factors also affect personality. Creating a reassuring environment for an anxious child helps reduce his or her emotional instability. Conversely, if the environment is causing anxiety, his emotional instability will increase.
Events have negative and positive consequences on us. The most devastating ones are accidents and deaths. An extroverted and emotionally stable adolescent who has positive feelings may become introverted and unstable after the death of his mother or father, if his environment does not support him after this loss. A social and extroverted adult may develop anxious attitudes that will change their behavior, and therefore their character, following a traumatic event such as physical violence or a traffic accident.
In addition to such significant events, minor changes in behavior due to external influences can also gradually change the personality. If someone notices that they receive positive feedback for being friendly and sincere, this can reinforce their attitude and evolve their character.
The way to change the personality is without changing the brain
So, can we transform personality with therapy? Yes, according to Hansenne: “But let’s not forget that shaping the personality of someone with extreme behavior is difficult. The main purpose of therapy is to change the patient’s perspective and behavior based on the patient’s complaints. This changes his way of being, and therefore his personality.”
Therapy tries to reduce negative feelings and thoughts and harmful behaviors. The current trend, fed by positive psychology, also aims to increase positive emotions and thoughts in order to make the person happier. That is, the goal is to increase the person’s sense of satisfaction and peace, even if there is no psychological pain.
Hansenne, a series of studies based on this “It is possible to change personality by psychological interventions on emotional skills in young adults” says.
“One of these studies focused on emotional skills: identifying, understanding, regulating and using emotions. The program included theoretical and practical sessions (situations and role-plays). The participants had to apply the given information in their own lives and filled out a form that was analyzed and interpreted in subsequent sessions.
The results were surprising: At the end of the six-month program, the participants felt better, were satisfied with themselves, and maintained these good feelings even six months after the program. Their social relationships, physical health, and job performance were at their best. Moreover, changes were observed in the extraversion and neuroticism dimensions of their personality. After six weeks of practice on emotional skills, the participants were more extroverted and more emotionally stable. And they held on to where they were for at least six months from the end of the program.”
Hansenne states that these emotional adjustments accompany changes in brain activity. “Our actions, thoughts, reflections of certain neuronal activities, and the way to change our personality must go through changes in our brain. It was determined that the activities of some parietal and gyrus regions of the brains of the participants who completed the emotional skills training were decreased. That is, the areas of the brain associated with cognitive control were found to be less used.”
remodeling the brain
Still other clinical studies reveal the relationship between changes in the brain and changes in behavior.
For example, there is research showing that the activity in certain areas of the brain of patients with spider phobia decreases after cognitive behavioral therapy. Another example is patients with alcohol dependence. It is a fact that, following treatment, the activity in some areas of these patients’ brains is weakened.
It is known that magnetic stimulation therapy also causes changes in the brain and creates behavioral and emotional changes. Electrical stimulation of the left prefrontal cortex of depressed patients has a therapeutic effect. In other words, it is possible that the attitudes of depressive patients, their usual behavior patterns, and therefore their characters will change.
Hansenne concludes her views on personality change as follows: “Of course, our personality traits change minimally with age, unless unusual or dramatic situations occur, and without any therapeutic intervention. However, we now know that personality can change spontaneously through psychotherapy as well as environmental factors, and it is possible to maintain this change.”
Compiled from the July 2019 issue of Cerveau et Psycho magazine: