Stability vs. Change in Personality

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  • 0:01 Personality
  • 0:59 The Big Five
  • 3:35 Personality Change
  • 5:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

What makes you who you are? How are you different from other people? And will your personality ever change? Watch this lesson to find out more about the 'Big Five' personality traits and how people change over their lifespan.


Larry is a pretty unforgettable person. He's gregarious, the life of the party and a daredevil who likes skydiving and surfing. He's laid-back and doesn't get stressed out by the little things in life.

His sister Lindsay, though, is the complete opposite. She's quiet, shy and prefers to stay at home instead of going out. She likes routine, like going to the same place for lunch at the same time every day. She's also very organized, while Larry is always a mess.

How can two people be so different? Psychologists call individual patterns of thoughts, behaviors and emotions personality. But what goes into a person's personality? And does it change over the course of his or her lifetime? Let's look closer at the 'Big Five' personality traits and the debate over whether they are constant or whether they change during a person's life.

The Big Five

Larry and Lindsay are very different people. But what, exactly, are their differences? And what do those differences say about the two of them?

Psychologists generally view personality as being summed up by the 'Big Five' personality traits, which are five factors that can influence who a person is. An easy way to remember the big five is with the acronym 'OCEAN.'

O is for openness to experience. This is how curious and daring you are. For example, Larry loves to do new things, like skydiving and surfing. He's very open to new experiences. Lindsay, on the other hand, prefers routine to new experiences. She's more consistent and cautious than curious.

C is for conscientiousness. This is how organized or easy-going you are. Remember that Larry is laid-back and doesn't get stressed out easily. He's pretty easy-going, though that also means that he's pretty disorganized. Lindsay, though, is very organized and efficient. She might get more stressed out than Larry, but she also gets more done.

E is for extraversion. This is about how much you like other people's company versus being alone. Larry is the life of the party and very outgoing, so he's extroverted. But Lindsay is more introverted. She's shy and more of a homebody than Larry is.

A is for agreeableness. This has to do with how easily you trust and how compassionate you are to others. For example, Larry tends to be more analytical and less trusting when it comes to people. If someone hurts him, Larry is slow to forgive. Lindsay, though, is more compassionate. She understands that sometimes people do things, including things that might hurt her, because they are in a bad situation, not because they are bad people.

N is for neuroticism. This deals with the quantity of negative emotions that a person experiences. Larry doesn't really 'do' anxiety or depression, so he's pretty low on the neuroticism scale. On the other hand, Lindsay can get very stressed and feels anxious and depressed often. This makes her higher on the neuroticism scale than Larry.

Notice that not one of the big five can tell you who a person is. The fact that Larry holds grudges is not the end-all, be-all of his personality. Instead, it's the combination of all five that make up someone's personality.

Personality Change

So, what does it mean that Lindsay and Larry are so different? And if they are different now, does that mean that they will always be different?

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