Stability And Change

Stability And Change

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According to the textbook, researchers who have followed lives through time have found evidence for both stability and change when it comes to an individual’s personality. Reflect on your own personality and describe the characteristics of your personality that have changed, and which have stayed the same as you have grown older.

Personality psychology is about how individuals differ from each other in their characteristic ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving. Some of the most interesting questions about personality attributes involve issues of stability and change. Are shy children destined to become shy adults? Are the typical personality attributes of adults different from the typical attributes of adolescents? Do people become more self-controlled and better able to manage their negative emotions as they become adults? What mechanisms explain personality stability and what mechanisms account for personality change?

Defining Different Kinds of Personality Stability

Something frustrating happens when you attempt to learn about personality stability: As with many topics in psychology, there are a number of different ways to conceptualize and quantify personality stability (e.g., ; ). This means there are multiple ways to consider questions about personality stability. Thus, the simple (and obviously frustrating) way to respond to most blanket questions about personality stability is to simply answer that it depends on what one means by personality stability. To provide a more satisfying answer to questions about stability, I will first describe the different ways psychologists conceptualize and evaluate personality stability. I will make an important distinction between heterotypic and homotypic stability. I will then describe absolute and differential stability, two ways of considering homotypic stability. I will also draw your attention to the important concept of individual differences in personality development.

 refers to the psychological coherence of an individual’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors across development. Questions about heterotypic stability concern the degree of consistency in underlying personality attributes. The tricky part of studying heterotypic stability is that the underlying psychological attribute can have different behavioral expressions at different ages. (You may already know that the prefix “hetero” means something like “different” in Greek.) Shyness is a good example of such an attribute because shyness is expressed differently by toddlers and young children than adults. The shy toddler might cling to a caregiver in a crowded setting and burst into tears when separated from this caregiver. The shy adult, on the other hand, may avoid making eye contact with strangers and seem aloof and distant at social gatherings. It would be highly unusual to observe an adult burst into tears in a crowded setting. The observable behaviors typically associated with shyness “look” different at different ages. Researchers can study heterotypic continuity only once they have a theory that specifies the different behavioral manifestations of the psychological attribute at different points in the lifespan. As it stands, there is evidence that attributes such as shyness and aggression exhibit heterotypic stability across the lifespan (). Individuals who act shy as children often act shy as adults, but the degree of correspondence is far from perfect because many things can intervene between childhood and adulthood to alter how an individual develops. Nonetheless, the important point is that the patterns of behavior observed in childhood sometimes foreshadow adult personality attributes.

 concerns the amount of similarity in the same observable personality characteristics across time. (The prefix “homo” means something like the “same” in Greek.) For example, researchers might ask whether or the tendency to become easily distressed by the normal challenges of life exhibits homotypic stability from age 25 to age 45. The assumption is that this attribute has the same manifestations at these different ages. Researchers make further distinctions between absolute stability and differential stability when considering homotypic stability.

When considering personality stability, researchers can think of it at the individual level (e.g., how is 18-year-old you different than 38-year-old you?) or at the group level (e.g., how are most 18-year-olds different than most 38-year-olds?). [Image: Ken Wytock, https://goo.gl/G1qfcO, CC BY-NC 2.0, https://goo.gl/VnKlK8]

 refers to the consistency of the level of the same personality attribute across time. If an individual received a score of 45 on a hypothetical measure of stress reaction at age 20 and at age 40, researchers would conclude there was evidence of absolute stability. Questions about absolute stability can be considered at the  or the . At the group level, it is common for personality researchers to compare average scores on personality measures for groups of different ages. For example, it is possible to investigate whether the average 40-year-old adult has a lower (or higher) level of stress reaction than the average 20-year-old. The answer to this question would tell researchers something about typical patterns of personality development.

It is important to consider absolute stability from both the group and individual perspectives. The individual level is interesting because different people might have different patterns of absolute change over time. One person might report consistently low levels of stress reaction throughout adulthood, whereas another person may report dramatic increases in stress reaction during her 30s and 40s. These different individual patterns can be present even if the overall trend is for a decline in stress reaction with age. Personality psychology is about individual differences and whether an individual’s attributes change or remain the same across time might be an important individual difference. Indeed, there are intriguing hints that the rate and direction of change in characteristics such as stress reaction (or neuroticism) predicts mortality ().

refers to the consistency of a personality attribute in terms of an individual’s rank-ordering. A typical question about differential stability might be whether a 20-year-old who is low in stress reaction relative to her same aged peers develops into a 40-year-old who is also low in stress reaction compared to her peers. Differential stability is often interesting because many psychological attributes show average changes across the lifespan. Regardless of average changes with age, however, it is common to assume that more trait-like attributes have a high degree of differential stability. Consider athletic performance as an attribute that may exhibit differential stability. The average 35-year-old is likely to run a 5K race faster than the average 55-year-old. Nonetheless, individuals who are fast relative to their peers in their 30s might also be fast relative to their peers in their 50s. Likewise, even if most people decline on a stress reaction as they age, it is still useful to investigate whether there is consistency over time in their relative standing on this attribute.

Basic Findings about Absolute and Differential Stability

Absolute Stability. There are two common ways to investigate average levels of personality attributes at different ages. The simplest approach is to conduct a and compare different age groups on a given attribute assessed at the same time. For instance, researchers might collect data from a sample of individuals ranging in age from 18 to 99 years and compare stress reaction scores for groups of different ages. A more complicated design involves following the same group of individuals and assessing their personalities at multiple time points (often two). This is a ,and it is a much better way to study personality stability than a cross-sectional study. If all of the individuals in the sample are roughly the same age at the start of the study, they would all be considered members of the same . One of the chief drawbacks of a cross-sectional study is that individuals who are of different ages are also members of different birth cohorts. Thus, researchers have no way of knowing whether any personality differences observed in a cross-sectional study are attributable to the influence of age per se or birth cohort. A longitudinal study is better able to isolate  (i.e., differences in personality related to maturation and development) from  (i.e., differences in personality related to being born at a particular point in history) than a cross-sectional study. Cohort is a constant (i.e., an unchanging value) in a longitudinal study when all participants start the study at roughly the same age.

ADDITIONAL INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE CLASS

Discussion Questions (DQ)

  • Initial responses to the DQ should address all components of the questions asked, include a minimum of one scholarly source, and be at least 250 words.
  • Successful responses are substantive (i.e., add something new to the discussion, engage others in the discussion, well-developed idea) and include at least one scholarly source.
  • One or two sentence responses, simple statements of agreement or “good post,” and responses that are off-topic will not count as substantive. Substantive responses should be at least 150 words.
  • I encourage you to incorporate the readings from the week (as applicable) into your responses.

Weekly Participation

  • Your initial responses to the mandatory DQ do not count toward participation and are graded separately.
  • In addition to the DQ responses, you must post at least one reply to peers (or me) on three separate days, for a total of three replies.
  • Participation posts do not require a scholarly source/citation (unless you cite someone else’s work).
  • Part of your weekly participation includes viewing the weekly announcement and attesting to watching it in the comments. These announcements are made to ensure you understand everything that is due during the week.

APA Format and Writing Quality

  • Familiarize yourself with APA format and practice using it correctly. It is used for most writing assignments for your degree. Visit the Writing Center in the Student Success Center, under the Resources tab in LoudCloud for APA paper templates, citation examples, tips, etc. Points will be deducted for poor use of APA format or absence of APA format (if required).
  • Cite all sources of information! When in doubt, cite the source. Paraphrasing also requires a citation.
  • I highly recommend using the APA Publication Manual, 6th edition.

Use of Direct Quotes

  • I discourage overutilization of direct quotes in DQs and assignments at the Masters’ level and deduct points accordingly.
  • As Masters’ level students, it is important that you be able to critically analyze and interpret information from journal articles and other resources. Simply restating someone else’s words does not demonstrate an understanding of the content or critical analysis of the content.
  • It is best to paraphrase content and cite your source.

 

LopesWrite Policy

  • For assignments that need to be submitted to LopesWrite, please be sure you have received your report and Similarity Index (SI) percentage BEFORE you do a “final submit” to me.
  • Once you have received your report, please review it. This report will show you grammatical, punctuation, and spelling errors that can easily be fixed. Take the extra few minutes to review instead of getting counted off for these mistakes.
  • Review your similarities. Did you forget to cite something? Did you not paraphrase well enough? Is your paper made up of someone else’s thoughts more than your own?
  • Visit the Writing Center in the Student Success Center, under the Resources tab in LoudCloud for tips on improving your paper and SI score.

Late Policy

  • The university’s policy on late assignments is 10% penalty PER DAY LATE. This also applies to late DQ replies.
  • Please communicate with me if you anticipate having to submit an assignment late. I am happy to be flexible, with advance notice. We may be able to work out an extension based on extenuating circumstances.
  • If you do not communicate with me before submitting an assignment late, the GCU late policy will be in effect.
  • I do not accept assignments that are two or more weeks late unless we have worked out an extension.
  • As per policy, no assignments are accepted after the last day of class. Any assignment submitted after midnight on the last day of class will not be accepted for grading.

Communication

  • Communication is so very important. There are multiple ways to communicate with me: 
    • Questions to Instructor Forum: This is a great place to ask course content or assignment questions. If you have a question, there is a good chance one of your peers does as well. This is a public forum for the class.
    • Individual Forum: This is a private forum to ask me questions or send me messages. This will be checked at least once every 24 hours.

 

 

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