Throughout our lives, our personality traits remain relatively stable. They also contribute to personal relationships, leisure time activities, careers and even income level. We should have a more understanding attitude towards personality differences, suggests Katja Kokko, docent of psychology and research director from the Gerontology Research Center and the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences.  

Personality describes a person’s relatively fixed ways of thinking, feeling and behaving. Personality differences between people are often a sensitive topic and result in misunderstandings. In everyday language we often describe certain persons as being “temperamental,” but the description is not very apt since we all have our own temperaments – not just the most bubbly and visible individuals. Characteristics such as attention span and sociability are also part of one’s temperament.

My hope is that we would have a more understanding attitude towards personality differences.

According to McAdams,1 the basic level of personality includes the innate temperament and the Big Five personality traits. These widely known traits are emotional instability (neuroticism), extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness to new experiences. In addition to this basic level, our personality contains characteristic adaptations that have been shaped in interaction with the dispositional traits and environment, such as motivation, attitudes and values, self-esteem, coping mechanisms and the story of the self.

For example, when looking at personality traits, our analyses based on the ”The Jyväskylä Longitudinal Study of Personality and Social Development”, show that the traits significantly explain mental well-being, health, physical activity, occupational well-being, unemployment, income level, life goals, and parenting stress. These results, based on a Finnish sample, on the connections of the traits are in line with observations made in other Western countries. Emotional instability, especially when combined with low levels of other traits, appears to be a risk factor for unfavorable functioning in the aforementioned areas of life. When it comes to those personality traits that serve as resource factors, there is more variation depending on which area of life is being looked at.

Self-report methods that suit various cultures and different ages have been developed for measuring the personality traits. Self-reports are sometimes criticised on the basis that people want to project a certain image of themselves, for example, a socially desirable one. Yet in the test the participants assess how well numerous, mainly neutral items describe them. It is very difficult to assess all the items to consistently show a social desirability bias. In addition, studies demonstrate that the assessments by, for example, spouses and friends are similar to the person’s own assessment of their personality traits.

It has been shown that traits remain relatively stable in adulthood. Nevertheless, we can impact the way we think about our traits and how we understand each other.

It is time for us to better recognise, and with less charged expectations, the role of personality when, for example, developing functional working communities or physical activity interventions.

Katja Kokko, Docent (psychology), Research Director

Gerontology Research Center and Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences, University of Jyväskylä

1McAdams, D. P. (1996). Personality, modernity, and the storied self: A contemporary framework for studying persons. Psychological Inquiry, 7, 295–321.


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