Just how malleable is your personality?

Written by
Cornelia Kirschke
ID37 Jan Doerendahl Research
The answer is “yes and no“ – Dr. Jan Dörendahl explains if we can change our personality
Dr. Jan Dörendahl is a member of Professor Dr. Samuel Greiff’s Computer-Based Assessment research team at the University of Luxembourg, where he contributed to the development of the ID37 personality assessment. He is also our academic sparring partner. Jan has just completed his dissertation exploring efforts to understand our basic motives. We congratulate him on this achievement and would like to get his thoughts on the latest findings in research on personality change.

Can we change our personality?

Many people wonder about the extent to which they can change. We live in an era of self-optimization. Research has long been concerned with whether our personality changes over time and whether we can impact this change ourselves. We’d like to hear Jan’s point of view.

What exactly is personality?

When we talk about personality, we are referring to a person’s individuality in terms of their physical appearance and the regularity of behavior and experience (Asendorpf 2015). The concept of “regularity” here implies temporal stability and, in fact, the human personality begins to stabilize already in childhood and adolescence (Asendorpf 2016).

Change in personality over time

This doesn’t mean that a person’s personality doesn’t undergo change over the course of their life. In the past, the assumption was that personality development was completed by the age of 30. However, more recent findings suggest otherwise (Asendorpf 2016). Studies tracking people over a longer period of time have indicated that personality changes through processes of maturation and the occurrence of major life events. A well-established finding of maturation-related personality change is, for example, the increase in conscientiousness that takes place up to about 40 years of age (Roberts et al. 2006; Specht et al. 2011). While these shifts take place over several years, there are also changes in personality that are associated with individual major life events. For example, we see a stronger decline in extraversion after marriage and a stronger increase in conscientiousness after entering the working world (Specht et al. 2011). So, as we get older, grow more mature, and gain certain life experience, our personality changes.

How feasible is it to target personality change ourselves?

Can we also target specific aspects of our personality for change? For example, can we increase our extraversion if we want to have an easier time with establishing contact to other people? Given that personality starts to stabilize in childhood and adolescence, interventions of this sort are unlikely to deliver promising results (Asendorpf 2016). If an intervention-induced change in personality were possible, people would probably grow increasingly similar to each other in terms of personality, and individuality would to some extent be lost. Because certain personality traits are regarded as more desirable and others as more undesirable (Asendorpf 2015), the aim would probably be to strengthen desirable traits and weaken those less desirable.

Change is possible, but only to a certain extent

In short, we can say that there is a certain amount of leeway when it comes to changing personality. Every person has their own spectrum in which their behavior lines up with their personality. Within this spectrum, situational fluctuations are possible that can be transformed into behavioral habits – with the right methods. But generally, a person who is shy will not be transformed into an outgoing person. The extent to which it makes sense for us all to develop in the same direction is an entirely different question.

As part of the ID37 development team at the University of Luxembourg, Dr. Jan Dörendahl supported the authors of Personality Assessment with ID37 – Motivation and the Ability to Self-Direct with his scientific expertise.

More about the book

The German-language book is available at Amazon

The English translation of the ID37 book Personality Assessment with ID37 – Motivation and the Ability to Self-Direct will be available in stores as of December 2020. Click here for a preview of the English edition.


Asendorpf, J. (2015). Persönlichkeitspsychologie für Bachelor: Mit 43 Tabellen (3rd updated edition). Springer.

Asendorpf, J. (2016).“Stabilität, Veränderung und Vorhersagekraft der Persönlichkeit: Beiträge derPersönlichkeitspsychologie” in K. Sonntag (eds.), Personalentwicklung inOrganisationen (4th edition). Hogrefe.

Roberts, B. W., Walton,K. E., & Viechtbauer, W. (2006). “Patterns of mean-level change inpersonality traits across the life course: A meta-analysis of longitudinalstudies.” Psychological Bulletin, 132(1), 1-25.

Specht, J., Egloff, B.,& Schmukle, S. C. (2011). “Stability and change of personality across thelife course: The impact of age and major life events on mean-level andrank-order stability of the Big Five.” Journal of Personality and SocialPsychology, 101(4), 862-882.

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