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Your personality is often treated as an immutable part of who you are, but while changing it is difficult, it’s certainly not impossible.

Hosted by: Brit Garner
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Sources:
https://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~johnlab/pdfs/2008chapter.pdf
https://opentextbc.ca/introductiontopsychology/chapter/11-3-is-personality-more-nature-or-more-nurture-behavioral-and-molecular-genetics/
https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2012-28870-001
https://books.google.com/books?id=0LhwDwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=cambridge+handbook+of+personality+psychology&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjwmuqr-rfhAhUjWN8KHW1dBkoQ6AEIUTAI#v=snippet&q=definition&f=false
https://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~johnlab/pdfs/2008chapter.pdf
https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2011-18537-001
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0092656614000956?via%3Dihub
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[INTRO ♪].

According to hundreds of websites across the Internet, your personality is 100% something you’re born with. So whether you get hyped up by huge crowds or people tire you out… well, you just have to deal with it.

Except, like many things online, that isn’t true. Research suggests that you can change your personality if you’re willing to work for it. You just have to know how.

Today, most psychologists define personality as the automatic pattern of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that come out in certain situations and that change from person to person. In other words, if you’re an extravert and get energized by being around people, you probably don’t walk into a party and go, “Time to act extraverted! Pa-pow!” [clap] You just do it automatically.

Especially in the early days of psychology, many scientists did think these traits stayed the same throughout your lifetime. That could be because plenty of people thought personality was only determined by tiny differences in your brain and nervous system. Today, though, most researchers agree there’s much more to the story.

Recent studies do suggest that some of your personality is related to your genetics, but there are plenty of other factors, too. Many of these studies break down personality using the five-factor model, or the Big Five. It puts personality traits into five general categories: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness to experience, and neuroticism.

That last one is also sometimes called emotional stability. The degree to which each of these traits shows up in your personality is pretty stable, for the most part. But it does change throughout your life.

For example, as people age, studies suggest that they tend to become more conscientious. And life events like getting married have been shown to increase emotional stability. So, sure, your personality can change.

But the real question is, can you change it on purpose, without waiting for your life to change? Well, yeah! For some people, that’s actually the goal of therapy.

Like, someone might start counseling to help them become more social or more organized and on-task. But there also seems to be other ways to do it. Let’s say you want to become more extraverted, because you’re sick of being tired out by big parties.

Well, good news: Extraversion seems to be one of the more malleable traits out there. Take the results of a 2015 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. In it, researchers had 151 undergraduates choose specific traits they wanted to change, make specific goals to accomplish that, then work toward these goals over a period of four months.

Throughout that time, they checked in by occasionally taking the same self-guided personality test. In the end, those tests showed that participants were successful at boosting their levels of extraversion and emotional stability. A 2018 study with almost 400 participants did something similar over the same timeframe.

But instead of letting participants make their own goals, they got to sign up for a few “challenges” every week that helped them change their chosen traits. For example, someone who wanted to become more extraverted might be challenged to have a conversation with a stranger. When it was all said and done, most people were able to increase their extraversion, emotional stability, and conscientiousness if they completed the challenges, but not their openness or agreeableness.

Of course, that’s not to say you can’t improve those traits. The 2015 study saw similarly mixed results, and those authors pointed out that they could be due to small sample sizes. Overall, though, the authors’ takeaway was that you seem to be able to change your personality if you want to.

But before you click away from this video and try this for yourself, know that some methods for doing this are likely better than others. Like, in a different 2018 study, scientists didn’t have people set specific goals. They just asked some participants—who were both introverts and extraverts—to act extraverted for a full week.

And it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. The participants who were naturally introverted reported feeling less happy and more tired than the extraverted group. Maybe most understandably of all, they also said they felt less authentic.

This suggests that just acting differently isn’t a great way to change your personality. Instead, the key might be to find specific actions that can help you practice your chosen trait. So, if you want to be more extraverted, don’t just throw your alone time out the window.

Start small—maybe by setting a goal to finally invite that coworker to coffee. Or if you want to be more conscientious, you could practice that by volunteering to take on a project at work. Ultimately, you probably can change parts of your personality if you want to.

But it seems to be just like any other goal: You have to make it concrete, and you have to take specific steps to get there. Thanks to our patrons on Patreon for supporting this episode of SciShow! Every contribution you make helps us do more research, make more graphics, and produce more episodes like this one.

Basically, you’re the best. If you want to join our Patreon community and help us make more episodes, you can go to patreon.com/scishow. [OUTRO ♪].