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A longitudinal study of personality development through childhood, adolescence, and emerging adulthood

Conference contribution
Authors Maria Wängqvist
Michael E Lamb
Ann Frisén
Philip Hwang
Published in Symposium at the 16th European Conference on Developmental Psychology
Publication year 2013
Published at Department of Psychology
Language en
Subject categories Psychology


The aim of this longitudinal study was to investigate the development of the Big Five personality traits through childhood, adolescence, and emerging adulthood. The participants were a community sample from the Gothenburg Longitudinal study of Development (GoLD). The study’s seven measurement waves started when the initial 137 participants were 2 years old and covered the ages 2, 3, 7, 8, 15, 21 and 25. The measure used was the California Child Q-set, recoded as recommended by John, Caspi, Robins, Moffit, and Stauthamer-Loeber (1994). At the first five waves the participants’ mothers were the informants, whereas at the last to waves (age21 and 25) the participants described themselves. Results showed that rank-order stabilities increased with time. Hence, these correlations pointed to an increase in the stability of individual differences in personality traits with age. Moreover growth curve analyses revealed mean-level changes as well as individual variations around the developmental trends. Agreeableness and conscientiousness increased over time. Neuroticism increased until age eight and then slightly decreased. Extraversion and openness initially decreased, but leveled out in the emerging adult years. There were gender differences in some of the developmental trajectories. From late childhood or adolescence, females started to show higher levels of extraversion and neuroticism alongside lower levels of openness to experience. The clearest gender difference was in neuroticism, where females’ neuroticism increased more than the males’ did. To conclude, the developmental trajectories of some of the Big Five traits varied at different phases of the lifespan and there were significant variations in individual developmental trajectories. Also, in comparison to previous research there were both similarities and differences with regards to developmental trends. Thus, accounts of normative changes in personality development towards maturity need to take into account individual, socio-cultural, and age-related variability as well.

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