Science Says You're a Totally Different Person at 14 and 77

Most of us would like to forget decisions we made during our early teenage years — outfit choices, music taste, significant others, you name it. What were we thinking? (Side note: will butterfly clips make a comeback?) In the longest-running personality study ever, published in Psychology and Aging, research suggests that, much like your physical appearance, your personality completely transforms over time.

Once an Introvert, Always an Introvert?

Even if you were an introverted teenager, there's still a chance you'll be a social butterfly in your older age. In a study spanning 63 years, Matthew Harris and his colleagues at the University of Edinburgh found that people have very different personalities in late adolescence than they do in old age. Their study began in 1950 with a group of 1,209 Scottish 14-year-olds, and ended in 2012 when the participants were 77 years old. What happened during those years? A lot of changes.

In 1950, the teenage study participants had teachers rate these personality traits: self-confidence, perseverance, stability of moods, conscientiousness, originality, and desire to learn. In 2012, 174 of these teenagers agreed to be re-examined after 63 years had passed. The subjects rated themselves on the original six criteria and they had a close friend or relative rate them. As it turns out, the subjects had developed more than just wrinkles — they'd also formed brand new personalities. The researchers found no significant correlation between their ratings at age 14 and age 77.

You're Slowly Becoming a Different Person

The study notes that the longer the time interval, "the weaker the relationship between the two [selves] tends to be." If you compare a 12-year-old and a 42-year-old, the relationship between personality traits will certainly be stronger than when you compare the teenager to their 77-year-old selves. At an interval of 63 years, "there is hardly any relationship at all."

As BPS Research Digest notes, we experience a lot of changes during our adolescence and early childhood, as well as in our older age. While it might be strange to think of yourself as an entirely new human at 77, at least you'll have completely grown out of your teenage angst (or, so we hope).

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Ever wonder how personality tests got so popular? Get the backstory in "The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing" by Merve Emre. The audiobook is free with an Audible trial. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Anna Todd March 3, 2017

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