Adolescents experience their most significant personality changes as they transition into adulthood. Many young people leave home to pursue higher education, while others enter the workforce. Previous research has shown that personalities develop most significantly between the ages of 18 and 30, causing unruly teens to become more socially adept, caring and agreeable. However, little research has been conducted to determine how the life path chosen, school or career, influences those personality changes. Recently, researchers at the University of Tuebingen, in Germany, collaborated with researchers from the University of Illinois, to determine exactly how life choices affected personality traits in young adults. Using participants from the Transformation of the Secondary School System and Academic Careers (TOSCA) study, the team examined approximately 2,000 German students, over a four year period, assessing them at three different points. The researchers first evaluated the teens when they graduated high school, and again two and four years later. Each time, the participants completed a questionnaire that asked them about their life path and assessed the Big Five personality traits.
The researchers found, consistent with previous studies, that as the children aged, they became more emotionally mature and conscientious. They also discovered that the participants who entered the workforce upon graduation saw a more rapid increase in conscientiousness than the college-bound participants, but were less agreeable than their college peers. The researchers believe this could be the result of several factors. “For example, people who pursue more vocational or work-related goals tend to see themselves as less agreeable. Thus, the provisional identity of the student following the vocational path would be one in which he or she envisions taking the more demanding road in which personal relations may have to be sacrificed in the service of hard work,” they said. “In contrast, the identity structure of the more typical university-focused student may be less serious (attending classes is optional) and mutually rewarding (agreeable).”
Lüdtke, Oliver, Brent W. Roberts, Ulrich Trautwein, and Gabriel Nagy. “A Random Walk down University Avenue: Life Paths, Life Events, and Personality Trait Change at the Transition to University Life.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 101.3 (2011): 620-37. Print.
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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