Have you ever thought about how to improve your personality, and I bet it’s not only you who don’t think so. Research shows that all of us, to some extent, have an innate desire to develop positive personality traits (such as extroverted, optimism, and attractiveness) and strive to reduce negative personality traits (such as pessimism and neuroticism).
But is it really possible to change a person’s personality? In other words, we should think of personality as a solid, immutable existence.
A team of researchers from Southern Methodist University, led by Nassau Hudson, found that in many cases, people who actively work to change some of their personalities end up becoming what they want.
The researchers recruited 377 undergraduates from the University of Illinois and Michigan State University to participate in the 15-week study. First, participants were asked to complete a simple personality test that measured five dimensions of their personality: extrovert, pleasantness, emotional stability, responsibility, and openness.
After completing the test, participants were asked to choose which of the five dimensions they were most willing to change during the 15-week test period.
Based on their choices, participants received weekly “challenges” initiated by a team of researchers. These challenges are designed to push these participants out of their comfort zones to complete the changes in the personality dimension they want.
For example, if someone wants to become more outgoing, they may challenge to introduce themselves to strangers. Or, a person who wants to improve his emotional stability may be asked to spend at least an hour doing what he or she enjoys.
Every week during the 15-week test cycle, the participants were asked to re-test their personality. The researchers also sent participants new challenges of different levels of difficulty in the new week. For example, for extroverted features, a simple challenge would require participants to walk to a large public area and say Hi to a stranger, while a more difficult challenge would require participants to introduce themselves to a stranger and ask strangers at least two questions.
With this design, the researchers were able to test whether participants could change their personality traits by participating in these challenges. Interestingly, they found that the challenge had succeeded! After 15 weeks of testing, participants who challenged extroverts, pleasantness, emotional stability, and responsible hearts all showed progress in character dimensions. The challenge of openness is the only character dimension that does not succeed (in fact, people who want to be open to experience become less open than they were when they started).
The researchers also found that personality changes were not much related to the difficulty of challenges that people accepted. And the most important thing is to be able to consistently accomplish these challenges, not the level of difficulty they are challenging.
The researchers concluded: “Our study provides strong evidence that positive behavior changes can bring a person’s behavior and personality traits into line, a viable strategy for people who want to change their personality.” While this may seem like a promising expectation for designers who want to develop projects to help people change their traits, our findings underscore one of the most important attributes: it’s important to stick to them only if the desire to change and systematic planning is not enough.”