Stability and Change in Personality Traits and Major Life Goals From College to Midlife

Olivia E. Atherton, Emily Grijalva, Brent W. Roberts, Richard W. Robins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The association between personality traits and motivational units, such as life goals, has been a long-standing interest of personality scientists. However, little research has investigated the longitudinal associations between traits and life goals beyond young adulthood. In the present study (N = 251), we examined the rank-order stability of, and mean-level changes in, the Big Five and major life goals (Aesthetic, Economic, Family/Relationship, Hedonistic, Political, Religious, Social) from college (age 18) to midlife (age 40), as well as their co-development. Findings showed that personality traits and major life goals were both moderately-to-highly stable over 20 years. On average, there were mean-level increases in the Big Five and mean-level decreases in life goals over time. Patterns of co-development suggest people formulate goals consistent with their personality traits, and conversely, investing in goal-relevant contexts is associated with trait change. We discuss the results in light of Social Investment Theory and the developmental regulation literature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPersonality and social psychology bulletin
StateAccepted/In press - 2020


  • adulthood
  • Big Five
  • goals
  • personality development
  • self-regulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology

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