Category: Personality

American women seem to be becoming less stereotypically feminine and more dominant

we_can_do_itBy Christian Jarrett

True gender equality may be a work in progress, but since the Women’s Liberation Movement beginning in the 1950s and 60s, there has been a lot of positive change, at least in most industrialised nations: a shift towards women having more control over whether and when to have children, for example, and increased opportunities in education and careers, and less tolerance of sexism (though of course it hasn’t gone away). How might these cultural and social changes have influenced women, in terms of how much they act in stereotypically “feminine” ways?

A new study by Constance Jones and her colleagues at California State and San Francisco State Universities in the Journal of Adult Development tried to find out by comparing two cohorts of women, one born in the 1920s and the other featuring “Baby Boomers” born in the 1950s. The findings support past work that’s shown how women tend to change through their lives, and they provide evidence for a generation effect: over time, at least in California, women seem to be becoming less stereotypically feminine – that is, less deferential, and more confident and ambitious.

Continue reading “American women seem to be becoming less stereotypically feminine and more dominant”

Psychologists say the way we choose to share our good news is rather revealing

Young woman jumping in air, arms and legs outreached, portraitBy Alex Fradera

When you get a great piece of news, who do you tell? Do you get on the phone to your best friend? Launch the news onto Facebook to sail the sea of Likes? Do you congratulate yourself in front of someone you know doesn’t enjoy the same fortune or ability? Or do you keep it to yourself? Let me share some good news with you: according to research published recently in the Journal of Individual Differences, your answers to these questions may say something about you.

Continue reading “Psychologists say the way we choose to share our good news is rather revealing”

Longest ever personality study finds no correlation between measures taken at age 14 and age 77

Widower watching picturesBy Christian Jarrett

Imagine you’ve reached the fine age of 77 and you hear news of a school reunion. You’re going to have the chance to meet up with several of your former classmates who you haven’t seen since you were fourteen-years-old. They’ll look a lot different, of course, but what about their personality? Will they be broadly the same as they were back then?

Past research that’s looked at trait changes from adolescence to mid-life has shown there tends to be a moderate amount of stability, so too research that’s looked at changes from mid-life into old age. Put these two sets of data together and you might expect to see at least some personality stability across an entire lifespan. Your classmates probably won’t have changed completely.

Yet that’s not what a recent open-access study in Psychology and Aging has found: the first – to the authors’ knowledge – to measure personality in the same people in their adolescence and then again in old age. By covering a period of 63 years, this in a sense is the longest ever personality study. But contrary to what we might expect based on previous findings, Matthew Harris and his colleagues at the University of Edinburgh failed to find any correlation between their participants’ personality scores at age 14 and their scores on the same items at the age of 77. “Personality in older age may be quite different from personality in childhood,” they said.

Continue reading “Longest ever personality study finds no correlation between measures taken at age 14 and age 77”

US politicians differed from the public on each of the five main personality traits

Portrait of a Man Wearing a Full SuitBy Christian Jarrett

Many of us get the sense that our elected politicians are out of touch, that they are somehow different from the everyman or woman on the street. A new study in Personality and Individual Differences offers at least part of an explanation. Richard Hanania at the University of California, Los Angeles, emailed a personality questionnaire to thousands of US state politicians. Two hundred and seventy-eight of them sent their answers back and Hanania compared their average scores with the averages recorded by 2586 members of the US public, matched with the politicians for age, and who’d completed the same questionnaire online. Continue reading “US politicians differed from the public on each of the five main personality traits”

A little discussed effect of therapy: it changes your personality

By Christian Jarrett

Imagine the arrival of some high-tech brain device for treating mental health problems. It’s effective for many, but there’s an important side-effect. It changes your personality. Alarm ensues as campaigners warn that users risk being altered fundamentally for years to come. Now replay this scenario but replace the neuro-gizmo with good old-fashioned psychotherapy, and realise this: we’re talking fact, not fiction. A new meta-analysis in Psychological Bulletin has looked at 207 psychotherapy and related studies published between 1959 and 2013, involving over 20,000 participants, with measures of personality taken repeatedly over time. The analysis has found that just a few weeks of therapy is associated with significant and long-lasting changes in clients’ personalities, especially reductions in the trait of Neuroticism and increases in Extraversion.

Continue reading “A little discussed effect of therapy: it changes your personality”

Find a sense of purpose and you’re more likely to get rich

Young woman with long hair staring into the cameraBy Christian Jarrett

As the dawn breaks on a new year, now might be a good time to think about what you want to get out of life over the longer-term. We already know from past research that having a greater “sense of purpose” is good for us psychologically: it’s linked with experiencing more positive emotions and generally feeling better about life. Now a study in the Journal of Research in Personality suggests there are material benefits too. Researchers followed the same sample of people over a period of about nine years, and they found that during that time, those individuals who reported a greater sense of purpose at the study start had accumulated greater wealth.  Continue reading “Find a sense of purpose and you’re more likely to get rich”

Many of the same genes that influence our personality also affect our mental health

Prototype of womenBy Christian Jarrett

We know from twin and family studies that our personality is to a large degree – probably around 40 per cent – inherited. Geneticists are busy trying to find the specific gene variants involved, but because each one on its own only exerts a modest influence, this is challenging research requiring huge samples. A new study in Nature Genetics has made a significant contribution, using the technique of Genome Wide Analysis to look for genetic variants that correlate with personality. The researchers led by Min-Tzu Lo at the University of California, San Diego have identified variations in six genetic loci that correlate with different personality trait scores, five of which were previously unknown. In a separate analysis, the researchers also showed that many of the genetic variants involved in personality overlap with those involved in the risk of developing mental health disorders.

Continue reading “Many of the same genes that influence our personality also affect our mental health”

A bigger signature correlates with social bravado and narcissism

signature-giphy-2By Christian Jarrett

When you sign your name, do you like to fill the available space with bold strokes or is your personal scribble a more modest mark?  A group of psychologists from Uruguay, the Netherlands and Curaçao say that the answer could be a sign of your personality – from analysing the traits and signatures of 192 women and 148 men (psych students in Uruguay), they found that men and women with bigger signatures tended to score higher on “social dominance” – measured by agreement with statements like “I certainly have self confidence” and “I am not shy with strangers”. Among women only, a bigger signature also correlated with narcissism – agreement with claims like “I am a special person” and “I am going to be a great person”. Signature size was not correlated with self esteem or aggressive dominance, which is more about controlling other people for self-serving reasons.

If true, these results, published recently in the Journal of Research in Personality, would appear to provide some support for the quack field of graphology – the idea that our handwriting style reveals our personality (listed as one of the 50 great myths of psychology in the book by Scott Lilienfeld and his colleagues, based in part on a decisive meta-analysis of the area published by Geoffrey Dean in 2002). But the authors of the new research are careful to argue that it is signatures specifically, not handwriting more generally, that may be revealing of personality, precisely because they are such a personal form of self expression. Continue reading “A bigger signature correlates with social bravado and narcissism”

Clinton’s and Trump’s personality profiles, according to psychologists

By Christian Jarrett

Today the American people are voting to choose between two of the most unpopular Presidential candidates in history. Commentators have speculated that part of the reason for the candidates’ unpopularity is their personality profiles. Clinton and Trump would seem to agree – both have repeatedly attacked each other’s characters and temperaments. But what exactly are their personality profiles, as judged as objectively as possible by personality psychologists?

For a paper published online at Personality and Individual Differences – and spotted by psychology writer Rolf Degan – 10 experts in the HEXACO method of measuring personality (7 men, 3 women, all avid followers of the election) completed a 100-item profile of each candidate. Distilling the findings, Beth Visser and her colleagues conclude that voters effectively have a choice between a bold and narcissistic, antisocial leader willing to make dramatic changes, and a Machiavellian but highly conscientious leader with a steady hand – Trump or Clinton. “Ultimately, this is a decision that voters, and not academics, will have to decide,” they write.  Continue reading “Clinton’s and Trump’s personality profiles, according to psychologists”

Goal attainment seems to be about avoiding temptation, not exercising willpower

By Christian Jarrett

Those people with their gym-toned bodies and high-flying careers. Somehow they always seem to make different choices than the rest of us – fruit over chocolate, work over TV. It’s as if they are capable of super-human willpower, but a new study that’s currently in press at Social Psychological and Personality Science suggests it’s not so. Achieving your work and fitness goals is not about exercising self-control, the findings imply, rather it’s about avoiding temptation in the first place.  Continue reading “Goal attainment seems to be about avoiding temptation, not exercising willpower”