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Research shows how difficult it is to change your personality

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Erica Baranski currently is doing research where volunteers write out a personality goal  and over the course of six months, Baranski will determine if subjects completed their goal. 

Have you ever wanted to change some aspect of your personality? A recent study shows that changing your personality may not be as easy as you think. Attempting to change your personality can cause you to regress, according to a study conducted by University of Arizona researcher Erica Baranski and her team. Baranski questioned if people can change their personality, if they set their mind to it. 

“I was interested in knowing more about whether or not people wanted to change something about their personalities,”  Baranski said. “Some people may think that your personality is unchangeable and you're dealt a personality hand, so to speak, while other people might think if you work at it, you can change something about your personality.” 

Patrick Morse, coauthor of the study, explained that the biggest thing he learned was the desire to make a change in one's personality is a common human phenomenon. Participants presented an array of personality traits they wanted to change. These traits were ultimately put into five broad categories, or “The Big Five,”: increases of extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability and openness. Two separate groups were used for this study: one with roughly 350 college students and an online sample with a little over 500 participants ranging from 19-82 years of age.

“We found largely across both groups the desire to change your personality did not predict actual change over six months or a year,” Baranski said. “However, whenever we found any sort of activity, it was a college student and never with the more representative sample.”

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Baranski explains that while the participant was attempting to change one aspect of their personality, they ended up changing a completely different aspect of it. She provided an example: If they want to be more extroverted, meaning they want to have more friends, you might become more friendly and compassionate as a result.

“When you first get the college at the beginning of the semester, you might want to become more extroverted at the outset and you might even have strategies in place to accomplish that goal. However, when you are faced with the day-to-day challenges in being a college student and the pressures — to get a good grade, to find an internship or to make money — that your personality change goals might become less of a priority,” Baranski said.

Baranski has found the true difficulty behind changing your personality, especially with varying degrees of priority. 

“I wasn't surprised that people wanted to change aspects of their personality, or that it is difficult to do,” Morse said in an email interview. “If anything, I was surprised by the insights people were able to share about their goals. In a way, it's as though everyone has an internal personality psychologist that has an understanding of the importance of personality in their day today.” 

Baranski’s research finds that overall, it is hard to change your personality without actively working on it. It takes more than a desire to change something as big as your personality.

“We need to follow up on … some of the future studies,” said Baranski. “When [people] are not in a therapeutic setting, or if researchers aren't following you and checking up on you regularly … it may be difficult for individuals to accomplish the personality change … in light of everything else that you can spend your time on.”


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