Why do people get old differently

People's personality can change dramatically in old age

Sentences that are often said in families, usually with a rather resigned undertone, include these: People do not change, especially not in old age. Grandpa is like that, he's always been like that. It's mostly about personality, for example how open and compatible the grandfather is. Such sentences, says Jule Specht, have so far been in line with the state of research. “It has been seen that personality traits stabilize more and more over the course of a lifetime. At the age of 30 or 50 you usually stopped researching. "

Jule Specht is a psychologist at the Free University of Berlin and has now carried out further research. In doing so, she found out that people even change significantly again quite often - when they are around 70. Every fourth person at this age takes on completely different personality traits. From a purely statistical point of view, that would be one of four grandparents.

The "Big Five" among properties

Specht and her colleagues Maike Luhmann and Christian Geiser evaluated the data from two large population studies in Germany and Australia. The German data come from the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP), a long-term study for which thousands of people have been interviewed every year since 1984. Because it is always the same people, the data is a treasure for psychologists who study résumés and patterns.

Specht and her colleagues have evaluated material from the years 2005 to 2009, more than 23,000 people regularly provided information in both countries over the course of these four years - including about their character traits. The participants were between 16 and 82 years old and were asked to assess themselves in the personality traits that psychologists call the "Big Five". The five characteristics that shape a person's character include their emotional stability, their openness to new experiences, their compatibility with others, their conscientiousness and the degree of introversion or extraversion, which describes whether a person is more inclined to do so to withdraw or to look outwards.

Young “under-controlled” men are often still maturing

Psychologists use these characteristics to determine personality type. Jule Specht and her colleagues found three types in particular among the people who had taken part in the surveys, and they had expected that too. Most people belong to either the "under-controlled", the "resilient" or the "over-controlled" personality type. Resilient people are the ones who usually work best in everyday life, the word means robust or resilient. These people rest in themselves, they are productive and rarely suffer from mental health problems. About half of the 30-year-olds in Germany, says Specht, are of this type.

Many of them, especially younger men, were “under-controlled” in their youth. These people tend to be impulsive and stubborn, they don't like to stick to rules and they don't do things so conscientiously. "The personality stabilizes around the 30th birthday," said Specht in the data. This maturation could be biologically conditioned, or it could be due to the socialization through the boring everyday life. Anyone who has to function in the job learns better to follow a few rules.

Only in old age do people suddenly change again

“Overcontrolled” people lose their characteristics less often as they grow up, they remain emotionally sensitive, react sensitively, they tend to be nervous and are particularly reliable in dealing with other people. Adult women and men belong in roughly equal proportions to the different personality types.

And when they are over 30, they usually stay that way for a while.