The relational events that punctuate our existence (couple, marriage, break-up, etc.) are not only a factor of happiness or sadness. They would also change our deep personality, according to a recent study.
Do we remain equal to ourselves throughout life? No, we learn from a study published in the European Journal of Personality. According to a meta-analysis gathering data from 120,000 people, relationship changes, such as forming a new relationship, marriage and divorce, are associated with changes in personality and life satisfaction. Our personality would therefore be evolving and not as stable as we imagine.
Dating, marriages, divorce… The stages of life that change us
The research thus focused on data from 44 different studies in which the personalities of participants were assessed before and after the occurrence of an event. Five major personality traits which are considered “fundamental” personality traits were prioritized (openness to new experiences, emotional stability, introversion/extroversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness) as well as esteem self-esteem and life satisfaction, which are considered “surface characteristics” and are therefore more prone to change.
The meta-analysis also took into account six major life events related to relationships: entry into a new relationship, marriage, birth of a child, separation, divorce and widowhood, events based on gain or loss. The authors also considered age, gender, and culture as potential moderators of these effects.
Satisfaction or greater lucidity, when personal life shapes us
The results show major changes:
- Entering a new relationship was associated with the largest corresponding change, namely an increase in life satisfaction;
- Entering a new relationship was also associated with increased conscientiousness;
- Marriage was associated with increased life satisfaction and decreased openness to new experiences;
- The birth of a child was associated with decreased extraversion;
- Separation was associated with increased life satisfaction, while divorce was associated with decreased life satisfaction;
- Divorce was also associated with increased conscientiousness;
- No personality changes were reliably associated with becoming a widow.
A change that will not be the same depending on the person
For the authors, there is no doubt that major life events are indeed associated with personality change. They assume that because these life changes occur over the long term, they can also lead to lasting changes in personality. Additionally, the authors believe that experiencing several of these life events could lead to an accumulation of personality changes over time. However, they point out that not everyone reacts to life events in the same way and that these studies rely largely on participants’ self-report.
Deep personality VS surface personality
For Marie-Estelle Dupont, psychologist consulted on the subject, the evolution of our personality over time and events is found in everyone, but remains more nuanced than that:
“In psychology, we distinguish between the deep personality and the surface person. The deep personality is the one engraved in stone, almost “genetic”, these are the main traits of our person. So a paranoid person, for example, will remain so, even if they don’t express it or no longer express it. The deep personality is like an architecture of our personality. But a building can look different depending on what you put on that structure; This is called the ‘surface’ personality. These are the behaviors, the thoughts, the dominant emotions which can move, because the human being is in permanent interaction with his environment. Life events will change one’s cognitive patterns and perception of life.”
Someone who had a very idealized image of the couple through their parents will, for example, modify their perception of the couple after a painful breakup. “It is not the deep personality that changes, but the perception, thoughts, beliefs and attitudes that will be different.”