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Dr. Nathan Hudson discusses his new research on personality change
Originally Posted: December 8, 2021

A new paper appearing in the Journal of Research in Personality bolsters the argument that personality is more changeable than previously thought — even suggesting that personality can be changed when people aren’t necessarily committed to change.

I recently spoke with the lead author of this new research, Dr. Nathan Hudson of Southern Methodist University, to discuss these findings in more detail. Here is a summary of our conversation.

What inspired you to investigate the topic of personality change and what did you find?

Several decades of prior research has shown that personality can and does change. For example, when people commit to a new career, they tend to become more conscientious — thorough, hardworking, and responsible.

More recently, scientists have begun studying whether people can change their own personality traits volitionally. To that end, several prior studies have found that interventions can help people change their traits in desired ways. In other words, previous studies have found that “participant-directed” interventions (i.e., where a participant sets their own goal) can help change personality traits.

The present paper was designed to help understand which “active ingredients” are necessary for a successful trait-change intervention. In particular, I examined whether “researcher-directed” interventions can be effective in helping people change. In the present study, we found that simply asking people to perform conscientious behaviors, such as organizing their homes, starting assignments early, or being intentional about their daily schedule helped people become more conscientious across time. This was true irrespective of whether the participants personally chose to increase in conscientiousness, or whether they merely followed directions from the research team.

In contrast, our study found that interventions to help people reduce negative emotions and become more emotionally stable only worked if the participants voluntarily desired to work on the trait. Simply “going through the motions” of behaving in a more emotionally stable manner because a researcher asked the participants to do so was not effective in eliciting trait change. READ MORE