Posts Tagged ‘personality’

Look at a photo of yourself as a teenager and, mistaken fashion choices aside, it’s likely you see traces of the same person with the same personality quirks as you are today. But whether or not you truly are the same person over a lifetime—and what that notion of personhood even means—is the subject of ongoing philosophical and psychology debate.

The longest personality study of all time, published in Psychology and Aging and recently highlighted by the British Psychological Society, suggests that over the course of a lifetime, just as your physical appearance changes and your cells are constantly replaced, your personality is also transformed beyond recognition.

The study begins with data from a 1950 survey of 1,208 14-year-olds in Scotland. Teachers were asked to use six questionnaires to rate the teenagers on six personality traits: self-confidence, perseverance, stability of moods, conscientiousness, originality, and desire to learn. Together, the results from these questionnaires were amalgamated into a rating for one trait, which was defined as “dependability.” More than six decades later, researchers tracked down 635 of the participants, and 174 agreed to repeat testing.

This time, aged 77 years old, the participants rated themselves on the six personality traits, and also nominated a close friend or relative to do the same. Overall, there was not much overlap from the questionnaires taken 63 years earlier. “Correlations suggested no significant stability of any of the 6 characteristics or their underlying factor, dependability, over the 63-year interval,” wrote the researchers. “We hypothesized that we would find evidence of personality stability over an even longer period of 63 years, but our correlations did not support this hypothesis,” they later added.

The findings were a surprise to researchers because previous personality studies, over shorter periods of time, seemed to show consistency. Studies over several decades, focusing on participants from childhood to middle age, or from middle age to older age, showed stable personality traits. But the most recent study, covering the longest period, suggests that personality stability is disrupted over time. “The longer the interval between two assessments of personality, the weaker the relationship between the two tends to be,” the researchers write. “Our results suggest that, when the interval is increased to as much as 63 years, there is hardly any relationship at all.”

Perhaps those who had impulsive character flaws as a teenager would be grateful that certain personality traits might even out later in life. But it’s disconcerting to think that your entire personality is transformed.

“Personality refers to an individual’s characteristic patterns of thought, emotion, and behavior, together with the psychological mechanisms—hidden or not—behind those patterns,” note the authors, quoting psychology professor David Funder’s definition.

If your patterns of thought, emotions, and behavior so drastically alter over the decades, can you truly be considered the same person in old age as you were as a teenager? This question ties in with broader theories about the nature of the self. For example, there is growing neuroscience research that supports the ancient Buddhist belief that our notion of a stable “self” is nothing more than an illusion.

Perhaps this won’t surprise you if you’ve had the experience of running into a very old friend from school, and found a completely different person from the child you remembered. This research suggests that, as the decades go by, your own younger self could be similarly unrecognizable.

You’re a completely different person at 14 and 77, the longest-running personality study ever has found

By David Robson

You might expect a great philosopher to look past our surface into the depths of the soul – but Ancient Greek thinkers were surprisingly concerned with appearance. Aristotle and his followers even compiled a volume of the ways that your looks could reflect your spirit.

“Soft hair indicates cowardice and coarse hair courage,” they wrote. Impudence, the treatise says, was evident in “bright, wise-open eyes with heavy blood-shot lids”; a broad nose, meanwhile, was a sign of laziness, like in cattle.

Sensuous, fleshy lips fared little better. The philosophers saw it as a sign of folly, “like an ass”, while those with especially thin mouths were thought to be proud, like lions.

Today, we are taught not to judge a book by its cover. But while it is wise not to set too much by appearances, psychologists are finding that your face offers a window on our deepest secrets. Even if you keep a stony poker face, your features can reveal details about your personality, your health, and your intelligence.

“The idea is that our biology, like genes and hormone levels, influences our growth, and the same mechanisms will also shape our character,” explains Carmen Lefevre at Northumbria University.

Consider the face’s bone structure – whether it is relatively short and wide or long and thin. Lefevre has found that people with higher levels of testosterone tend to be wider-faced with bigger cheekbones, and they are also more likely to have more assertive, and sometimes aggressive, personalities.

The link between face shape and dominance is surprisingly widespread, from capuchin monkeys – the wider the face, the more likely they are to hold a higher rank in the group’s hierarchy – to professional football players. Examining the 2010 World Cup, Keith Welker at the University of Boulder, Colorado, recently showed that the ratio of the width and height of the footballers’ faces predicted both the number of fouls among midfielders, and the number of goals scored by the forwards.

(To calculate this yourself, compare the distance from ear-to-ear with the distance between the top of your eyes, and your upper lip. The average ratio of width-to-height is around 2 – Abraham Lincoln was 1.93)

It may even clue you in to a politician’s motives. Using volunteers to rate former US presidents on different psychological attributes, Lefevre found that face shape seemed to reflect their perceived ambition and drive. John F Kennedy had a thicker-set face than 19th Century Chester Arthur, for instance. Such analyses of historical figures are perhaps best taken with a pinch of salt, however, and it has to be said that other traits, such as cooperation and intelligence, should be equally important for success.

As you might expect, your health and medical history are also written in your countenance – and the detail it offers is surprising. The amount of fat on your face, for instance, provides a stronger indication of your fitness than more standard measures, such as your body mass index. Those with thinner faces are less likely to suffer infections, and when they do, the illness is less severe; they also tend to have lower rates of depression and anxiety, probably because mental health is often closely related to the body’s fitness in general.

How could the plumpness of your cheeks say so much about you? Benedict Jones at the University of Glasgow thinks a new understanding of fat’s role in the body may help explain it. “How healthy you are isn’t so much about how much fat you have, but where you have that fat,” he says. Pear-shaped people, with more weight around the hips and bottom but slimmer torsos, tend to be healthier than “apples” with a spare tyre around the midriff, since the adipose tissue around the chest is thought to release inflammatory molecules that can damage the core organs. Perhaps the fullness of your face reflects the fatty deposits in the more harmful areas, Jones says. Or it could be that facial fat is itself dangerous for some reason.

Besides these more overt cues, very subtle differences in skin colour can also reveal your health secrets. Jones and Lefevre emphasise this has nothing to do with the tones associated with ethnicity, but barely-noticeable tints that may reflect differences in lifestyle. You appear to be in more robust health, for instance, if your skin has a slightly yellowish, golden tone. The pigments in question are called carotenoids, which, as the name suggest, can be found in orange and red fruit and veg. Carotenoids help build a healthy immune system, says Lefevre. “But when we’ve eaten enough, they layer in the skin and dye it yellow. We exhibit them, because we haven’t used them to battle illness.” The glow of health, in turn, contributes significantly to your physical attraction – more so, in fact, than the more overt tones that might accompany a trip to the tanning salon.

A blush of pink, meanwhile, should signal the good circulation that comes with an active lifestyle – and it might also be a sign of a woman’s fertility. Jones has found that women tend to adopt a slightly redder flush at the peak of the menstrual cycle, perhaps because estradiol, a sex hormone, leads the blood vessels in the cheek to dilate slightly. It may be one of many tiny shifts in appearance and behaviour that together make a woman slightly more attractive when she is most likely to conceive.

As Jones points out, these secrets were hiding in plain sight – yet we were slow to uncover them. At the very least, this knowledge helps restore the reputation of “physiognomy”, which has suffered a somewhat chequered reputation since Aristotle’s musings. Tudor king Henry VIII was so sceptical of the idea that he even banned quack “professors” from profiting from their readings, and its status took a second bashing in the early 20th Century, when it was associated with phrenology – the mistaken idea that lumps and bumps on your head can predict your behaviour.

But now the discipline is gaining credibility, we may find that there are many more surprises hiding in your selfies. Intriguingly, we seem to be able to predict intelligence from someone’s face with modest accuracy – though it’s not yet clear what specific cues make someone look smart. (Needless to say, it is not as simple as whether or not they wear glasses.) Others are examining the “gaydar”. We often can guess someone’s sexual orientation within a split-second, even when there are no stereotypical clues, but it’s still a mystery as to what we’re actually reading. Further research might explain exactly how we make these snap judgements.

It will also be interesting to see how the link between personality, lifestyle and appearance changes across the lifetime. One study managed to examine records of personality and appearance, following subjects from the 1930s to the 1990s. The scientists found that although baby-faced men tended to be less dominant in their youth, they grew to be more assertive as the years wore on – perhaps because they learnt to compensate for the expectations brought about by their puppyish appearance.

More intriguingly, the authors also found evidence of a “Dorian Gray effect” – where the ageing face began to reflect certain aspects of the personality that hadn’t been obvious when the people were younger. Women who had more attractive, sociable, personalities from adolescence to their 30s slowly started to climb in physical attractiveness, so that in their 50s they were considered better-looking than those who had been less personable but naturally prettier. One possibility is that they simply knew how to make the best of their appearance, and that their inner confidence was reflected on subtle differences in expression.

After all, there is so much more to our appearance than the bone structure and skin tone, as one particularly clever study recently demonstrated. The scientists asked volunteers to wear their favourite clothes, and then took a photo of their face. Even though the clothes themselves were not visible in the mugshots, impartial judges considered them to be considerably more attractive than other pictures of the participants. The finding is particularly striking, considering that they were asked to keep neutral expressions: somehow, the boosted self-esteem shone through anyway.

Our faces aren’t just the product of our biology. We can’t change our genes or our hormones – but by cultivating our personality and sense of self-worth, they may begin to mirror something far more important.

Sharks of the same species can have different personalities, indicates a new study published in the Journal of Fish Biology.

The study, led by Dr. Evan Byrnes of Macquarie University in North Ryde, Australia, examined interindividual personality differences between Port Jackson sharks (Heterodontus portusjacksoni).

Trials were designed to test the sharks’ boldness, which is a measure of their propensity to take risks, but also an influencer of individual health through its correlation with stress hormones and associated physiological profiles.

Port Jackson sharks were first introduced to a tank where they were provided with shelter, and timed to see how long it took for each shark to emerge from their refuge box into a new environment.

The second behavior test exposed each shark to handling stress, similar to handling by a fisherman, before releasing them again and observing how quickly they recovered.

The results demonstrated that each shark’s behavior was consistent over repeated trials, indicating ingrained behaviors rather than chance reactions.

That is, some sharks were consistently bolder than others, and the sharks that were the most reactive to handling stress in the first trial were also the most reactive in a second trial.

“This work shows that we cannot think of all sharks as the same,” Dr. Byrnes said.

“Each has its own preferences and behaviors, and it is likely that these differences influence how individuals interact with their habitat and other species.”

“We are excited about these results because they demonstrate that sharks are not just mindless machines. Just like humans, each shark is an individual with its unique preferences and behaviors,” said co-author Dr. Culum Brown, also from Macquarie University.

“Our results raise a number of questions about individual variation in the behavior of top predators and the ecological and management implications this may have. If each shark is an individual and doing its own thing, then clearly managing shark populations is much more complicated than we previously thought.”

“Understanding how personality influences variation in shark behavior – such as prey choice, habitat use and activity levels – is critical to better managing these top predators that play important ecological roles in marine ecosystems.”


E.E. Byrnes & C. Brown. Individual personality differences in Port Jackson sharks Heterodontus portusjacksoni. Journal of Fish Biology, published online May 26, 2016; doi: 10.1111/jfb.12993


Courage isn’t just a willingness to confront pain or fear. Courage, like character, also involves doing the right thing when no one is watching… or will ever know what you’ve done.

When you think of courage you may think of physical bravery, but there are many other forms of courage. After all, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” That means courage – sometimes remarkable courage – is required in business and entrepreneurship: Taking a chance when others will not; following your vision, no matter where it takes you; standing up for what you believe in, especially when your beliefs are unpopular; or simply doing the right thing even though easier options exist.

1. They Have the Courage to Believe the Unbelievable
Most people try to achieve the achievable. That’s why most goals and targets are incremental rather than massive or even inconceivable. Incremental is safe. Believable is safe. Why? Because you’re less likely to fall short. You’re less likely to fail. You’re less likely to lose credibility and authority. A few people do expect more from themselves and from others. But they don’t stop there. They also show you how to get to “more.” And they bring you along for what turns out to be an unbelievable ride.

2. They Have the Courage to be Patient
When things go poorly, giving up or making a change is often the easiest way out. It takes more courage to be patient, to believe in yourself, or to show people you believe in them. Showing patience in others also shows you care. And when you show you truly care about the people around you, even when others clamor for a change, they may find ways to do things that will amaze everyone — including themselves.

3. They Have the Courage to Say, “No.”
They have the courage to say no to requests for unusual favors, for unreasonable demands on your time, or to people who are only concerned with their own interests? Saying yes is the easy move. Saying no, when you know you’ll later resent or regret having said yes, is much harder — but is often the best thing to do, both for you and for the other person.

4. They Have the Courage to Take an Unpopular Stand
Many people try to stand out in a superficial way: clothes, or interests, or public displays of support for popular initiatives. They’re conspicuous for reasons of sizzle, not steak. It takes real courage to take an unpopular stand. And it takes real courage to take risks not just for the sake of risk but for the sake of the reward you believe is possible, and by your example to inspire others to take a risk in order to achieve what they believe is possible.

5. They Have the Courage to Ask for Help
No one does anything worthwhile on his or her own. Even the most brilliant, visionary, fabulously talented people achieve their success through collective effort. Still, it takes courage to sincerely and humbly say, “Can you help me?” Asking for help shows vulnerability. But it also shows respect and a willingness to listen. And those are qualities every great leader possesses.

6. They Have the Courage to Show Genuine Emotion
Acting professionally is actually fairly easy. Acting professionally while also remaining openly human takes courage–the willingness to show sincere excitement, sincere appreciation, and sincere disappointment, not just in others, but also in yourself. It takes real bravery to openly celebrate, openly empathize, and openly worry. It’s hard to be professional and also remain a person.

7. They Have the Courage to Forgive
When an employee makes a mistake –- especially a major mistake –- it’s easy to forever view that employee through the lens of that mistake. But one mistake, or one weakness, or one failing is also just one part of a person. It’s easy to fire, to punish, to resent; it’s much harder to step back, set aside a mistake, and think about the whole person. It takes courage to move past and forget mistakes and to treat an employee, a colleague, or a friend as a whole person and not just a living reminder of an error, no matter how grievous that mistake may have been.

8. They Have the Courage to Stay the Course
It’s easy to have ideas. It’s a lot harder to stick with your ideas in the face of repeated failure. It’s incredibly hard to stay the course when everyone else feels you should give up. Every day, hesitation, uncertainty, and failure causes people to quit. It takes courage to face the fear of the unknown and the fear of failure. But how many ideas could turn out well if you trust your judgment, your instincts, and your willingness to overcome every obstacle?

9. They Have the Courage to Lead by Permission
Every boss has a title. In theory that title confers the right to direct, to make decisions, to organize and instruct and discipline. The truly brave leader forgets the title and leads by making people feel they work with, not for, that person. It takes courage to not fall back on a title but to instead work to earn respect–and through gaining that respect earn the permission to lead.

10. They Have the Courage to Succeed Through Others
Great teams are made up of people who know their roles, set aside personal goals, willingly help each other, and value team success over everything else. Great business teams win because their most talented members are willing to sacrifice to make others successful and happy.

11. They Have the Courage to Say, “I’m Sorry.”
We all make mistakes and we all have things we need to apologize for: Words, actions, omissions, failing to step up, step in, show support. It takes courage to say, “I’m sorry.” It takes even more courage not to add, “But I was really mad, because…” or “But I did think you were…” or any words that in any way places the smallest amount of blame back on the other person.

12. They Have the Courage to Take the Hit
A customer is upset. A coworker is frustrated. A supplier feels shortchanged. An investor is impatient. Whatever the issue, the courageous people step up and take the hit. They support others. They support their teams. They willingly take responsibility and draw negative attention to themselves because to do otherwise is not just demotivating and demoralizing, it also undermines other people’s credibility and authority. Courageous people never throw others under the bus, even if that shines a negative spotlight on themselves.