As we have seen, personality change has important implications for promoting emotional well-being in older adulthood. In fact, some studies suggest that health and an emotionally stable personality are extremely important factors for life satisfaction among the very old (e. g., Hilleras et al., 2001). Thus, it is not simply health and financial security that contribute to the quality of life in older age, but a compilation of factors including a healthy personal­ity and outlook on life.

The fact is life events (such as widowhood, retire­ment, relocation into a nursing home) influence our personality, both positively and negatively, thus accounting for malleability in personality function­ing in older adulthood. Research on personality and aging helps debunk popular beliefs suggesting that with increasing age we become more hypochondriac or rigid in our attitudes and opinions. In contrast, psychological maturation appears to be a lifelong process.


9.1 Dispositional Traits across Adulthood

What is the five-factor model of dispositional


• The five-factor model posits five dimensions of personality: neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Each of these dimensions has several descriptors.

• Several longitudinal studies indicate that personality traits show long-term stability.

What evidence is there for long-term stability

in dispositional traits?

• Studies find evidence for change in Big Five factors such as neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and extraversion. These are related to two dimensions of personality: adjustment and growth.

• Evidence from the Berkeley studies shows that lifestyle is a better predictor of life satisfaction for women, but personality is a better predictor for men.

• Both stability and change characterize personality development in advanced old age.

• Women’s personality change is systematic in early and middle adulthood and is a function of changes in social roles and social contexts.

What criticisms have been leveled at the

five-factor model?

• Several criticisms of the five-factor model have been made: The research may have methodological problems; dispositional traits do not describe the core aspects of human nature and do not provide good predictors of behavior; and dispositional traits do not consider the contextual aspects of development.

• An intraindividual perspective challenges stability by examining personality at the level of the individual.

What conclusions can we draw about

dispositional traits?

• The bulk of the evidence suggests that dispositional traits are relatively stable across adulthood, but there may be a few exceptions. Criticisms of the research point to the need for better statistical analyses and a determination of the role of life experiences.

• Stability in personality traits may be more evident later in the life span.


9.2 Personal Concerns and Qualitative Stages in Adulthood

What’s different about personal concerns?

• Personal concerns take into account a person’s developmental context and distinguish between “having” traits and “doing” everyday behaviors. Personal concerns entail descriptions of what people are trying to accomplish and the goals they create.

What are the main elements of Jung’s theory?

• Jung emphasized various dimensions of personality (masculinity-femininity; extraversion-introversion). Jung argues that people move toward integrating these dimensions as they age, with midlife being an especially important period.

What are the stages in Erikson’s theory?

• The sequence of Erikson’s stages is trust versus mistrust, autonomy versus shame and doubt, initiative versus guilt, industry versus inferiority, identity versus identity confusion, intimacy versus isolation, generativity versus stagnation, and ego integrity versus despair. Erikson’s theory can

be seen as a trust-achievement-wholeness cycle repeating twice, although the exact transition mechanisms have not been clearly defined.

• Generativity has received more attention than other adult stages. Research indicates that generative concern and generative action can be found in all age groups of adults, but they are particularly apparent among middle-aged adults.

What are the stages in Loevinger’s theory?

• Loevinger proposed eight stages of ego development, six of which can occur in adulthood: conformist, conscientious – conformist, conscientious, individualistic, autonomous, and integrated. Most adults are at the conscientious-conformist level. Linkages to cognitive development are apparent.

What are the main points and problems with

theories based on life transitions?

• In general, life transition theories postulate periods of transition that alternate with periods of stability. These theories tend to overestimate the commonality of age-linked transitions.

• Research evidence suggests that crises tied to age 30 or the midlife crisis do not occur for most people. However, most middle-aged people do point to both gains and losses, which could be viewed as change.

• A midlife correction may better characterize this transition for women.

What can we conclude about personal concerns?

• Theory and research both provide support for change in the personal concerns people report at various times in adulthood.

9.3 Life Narratives, Identity, and the Self

What are the main aspects of McAdams’s life-story model?

• McAdams argues that people create a life story that is an internalized narrative with a beginning, middle, and anticipated ending. An adult reformulates that life story throughout adulthood. The life story reflects emotions, motivations, beliefs, values, and goals to set the context for his or her behavior.

What are the main points of Whitbourne’s identity theory?

• Whitbourne believes that people have a life-span construct: a unified sense of their past, present, and future. The components of the life-span construct are the scenario (expectations of the future) and the life story (a personal narrative history). She integrates the concepts of assimilation and accommodation from Piaget’s theory to explain how people’s identity changes over time. Family and work are two major sources of identity.

What is self-concept and how does it develop in adulthood?

• Self-concept is the organized, coherent, integrated pattern of self-perception. The events people experience help shape their self-concept. Self-presentation across adulthood is related to cognitive-developmental level. Self-concept tends to stay stable at the group mean level.

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What are possible selves and how do they show differences during adulthood?

• People create possible selves by projecting themselves into the future and thinking about what they would like to become, what they could become, and what they are afraid of becoming.

• Age differences in these projections depend on the dimension examined. In hoped-for selves, young adults and middle-aged adults report family issues as most important, whereas 25- to 39-year-olds and older adults consider personal issues to be most important. However, all groups include physical aspects as part of their most feared possible selves.

• Although younger and middle-aged adults view themselves as improving, older adults view themselves as declining. The standards by which people judge themselves change over time.

• Ryff has identified six aspects to well-being; self acceptance, positive relations with others, autonomy, environmental mastery, purpose in life, and personal growth. Older adults view their past more positively than younger or middle-aged adults, and they see themselves as closer to their ideal selves.

What role does religiosity and spiritual support play in adult life?

• Older adults use religion and spiritual support more often than any other strategy to help them cope with problems in life. This provides a strong influence on identity. This is especially true

for African American women, who are more active in their church groups and attend services more frequently. Other ethnic groups also gain important aspects of identity from religion.

How does gender-role identity develop in adulthood?

• There is some evidence that gender-role identity converges in middle age, to the extent that men and women are more likely to endorse similar self-descriptions. However, these similar descriptions do not necessarily translate into similar behavior.

What conclusions can we draw about narratives, identity, and the self?

• The life-narrative approach provides a way to learn how people integrate the various aspects of

354 CHAPTER 9 their personality. Possible selves, religiosity, and gender-role identity are important areas in need of additional research.

Review Questions

9.1 Dispositional Traits across Adulthood

• What is a dispositional trait?

• Describe Costa and McCrae’s five-factor model of personality. What are the descriptors in each dimension? How do these dimensions change across adulthood?

• What evidence is there in other longitudinal research for change in personality traits in adulthood? Under what conditions is there stability or change?

• What are the specific criticisms that have been raised concerning the five-factor model?

• What does most of the evidence say about the stability of dispositional traits across adulthood?

9.2 Personal Concerns and Qualitative Stages in Adulthood

• What is meant by a personal concern? How does it differ from a dispositional trait?

• Describe Jung’s theory. What important developmental changes did he describe?

• Describe Erikson’s eight stages of psychosocial development. What cycles have been identified? How has his theory been clarified and expanded? What types of generativity have been proposed? What evidence is there for generativity? What modifications to Erikson’s theory has this research suggested?

• Describe Loevinger’s theory of ego development, with particular emphasis on the stages seen in adults.

• What are the major assumptions of theories based on life transitions? What evidence is there that

a midlife crisis really exists? How can midlife be viewed from a gain-loss perspective?

• Overall, what evidence is there for change in personal concerns across adulthood?

9.3 Life Narratives, Identity, and the Self

• What are the basic tenets of McAdams’s life-story theory? What are the seven elements of a life story?

• What is Whitbourne’s life-span construct? How does it relate to a scenario and a life story? How did Whitbourne incorporate Piagetian concepts into her theory of identity?

• What is self-concept? What shapes it?

• What are possible selves? What developmental trends have been found in possible selves?

• How are religiosity and spiritual support important aspects of identity in older adults?

• How does gender-role identity develop across adulthood?

Integrating Concepts in Development

• What relations can be found among dispositional traits, personal concerns, and life narratives?

• How does personality development reflect the four basic forces of development discussed in Chapter 1?

• How does cognitive development relate to personality change?

• How does personality change relate to stages in occupational transition?

Key Terms

androgyny Gender role reflecting the acceptance of the most adaptive aspects of both the traditional masculine and feminine roles.

conscientious stage According to Loevinger’s theory, a point at which one focuses on understanding the role that the self plays. Character development involves self-evaluated standards, self-critical thinking, self­determined ideals, and self-set goals. dispositional trait A relatively stable, enduring aspect of personality.

ego development The fundamental changes in the ways in which our thoughts, values, morals, and goals are organized. Transitions from one stage to another depend on both internal biological changes and external social changes to which the person must adapt.

epigenetic principle In Erikson’s theory, the notion that development is guided by an underlying plan in which certain issues have their own particular times of importance.

five-factor model A model of dispositional traits with the dimensions of neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness-antagonism, and conscientiousness-undirectedness. life narrative The aspects of personality that pull everything together, those integrative aspects that give a person an identity or sense of self. life-span construct In Whitbourne’s theory of identity, the way in which people build a view of who they are.

midlife correction Reevaluating one’s roles and dreams and making the necessary corrections. personal concerns Things that are important to people, their goals, and their major concerns in life. possible selves Aspects of the self-concept involving oneself in the future in both positive and negative ways.

self-concept The organized, coherent, integrated pattern of self-perceptions. spiritual support Includes seeking pastoral care, participating in organized and nonorganized religious activities, and expressing faith in a God who cares for people as a key factor in understanding how older adults cope.


www. cengage. com/psychology/cavanaugh

Visit the Book Companion Website where you will find tutorial quizzes, flashcards, and web links for every chapter, a final exam, and more!


Erikson, E. H. (1982). The life cycle completed: Review. New York: Norton. Erikson’s own summary of his theory that highlights adulthood. Moderately difficult reading.

Funder, D. C., Parke, R. D., Tomlinson-Keasey, C., & Widaman, K. (Eds.). (1993). Studying lives through time: Personality and development. Washington,

DC: American Psychological Association. Moderate reading.

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Labouvie-Vief, G. (1994). Psyche and Eros: Mind and gender in the life course. New York: Cambridge University Press. An interesting perspective on changes in gender identity in later adulthood. Moderately difficult reading.

Lachman, M. (Ed.). (2001). Handbook of midlife development. New York: Wiley. An excellent compilation of psychological issues in midlife. Moderately difficult reading.

McAdams, D. P. (1993). The stories we live by: Personal myths and the making of the self. New York: Morrow. Fascinating reading that lays the groundwork for McAdams’s theory of life narratives. Easy to moderate reading.

McAdams, D. P. (1999). Personal narratives and the life story. In L. Pervin & O. John (Eds.), Handbook of personality: Theory and research (2nd ed., pp. 478-500). New York: Guilford Press. A more explicit formulation of McAdams’s theory of life narratives. Moderate reading.

Pervin, L. A. (1996). The science of personality. New York: Wiley. General overviews of personality research and theories in adulthood. Moderate reading. Whitbourne, S. K. (1996). The aging individual: Physical and psychological perspectives. New York: Springer. The general overview of Whitbournes theory of identity from a cognitive perspective. Interesting reading that is easy to moderately difficult.