by Morgan Thompson, Kenyon ’17
With the Big 5 personality traits more or less ubiquitously accepted in modern personality psychology, many practitioners have devoted enormous amounts of effort into using variation on the Big 5 scale to explain an individual’s behavior and thinking. Understanding an individual’s change goals–their desire/motive to change their own specific personality traits–can be hugely informative to a researcher in the pursuit of understanding behavior and thought processes. Nathan W. Hudson and Brent W. Roberts set out in late 2014 in their article Goals to change personality traits: Concurrent links between personality traits, daily behavior, and goals to change oneself to try and be some of the first to directly measure and explain the role change goals might have in determining an individual’s thinking and behavior.
The main objective of this study was not to determine whether or not people can, in practice, change their own personalities, but whether or not individuals have the desire to do so, and what implications the answer to that question might yield. In 4 different studies Hudson and Roberts found that most people do indeed have the desire to change their traits, that these change goals are organized within the structure of the Big 5, and that change goals are often the product of a perceived deficiency in socially desirable traits. That being said, it is still unclear the role change goals have in explaining daily behavior. It seems that change goals are more useful for explaining long term behavior, but the effects of change goals on daily behavior is still under researched. Finally Hudson and Roberts gave the field of personality psychology a standard measure of change goals that fits within the existing structure of the Big 5 when such a standard didn’t exist before.
Hudson and Roberts have made substantial discoveries regarding an aspect of personality psychology largely neglected up to this point. Though the ability of change goals to explain daily behavior was not confirmed and didn’t seem likely, the great success of this study was proving that most people do wish to change their personalities. This finding alone has great implications for the field of personality psychology. For example how do people change their personalities? Is the personality possible to change by sheer force of will?
It is traditionally accepted in personality psychology that one of the greatest catalysts for personality change is a shift in social roles and responsibilities (e.g. becoming more conscientious in marriage). While the effectiveness of deliberate efforts to change one’s personality is yet to be determined, Hudson and Roberts suggest that selective individuals have the option to choose social roles that promote desired personality traits. It must be emphasized that this research article is in no way Freudian. Change goals are not examined in this research as being subconscious forces for change. Change goals are conscious and volitional. Participants in this research are asked to consciously assess their own change goals. If anything, this research is related to Humanism and the self-actualization of Carl Rogers discussed in his own research in the 1960s.
Four different studies were used in Roberts and Hudson’s research. The general objective of the four studies was to determine the prevalence of change goals in the study of personality psychology, the existence of change goals, and the potential for change goals to explain concurrent behavior on a daily basis. In each study the variables were often the participant’s level of a given trait and the participant’s level of change goals in regards to Big 5 traits. These variables were measured and often manipulated by changing the scales available to participants and changing the wording of questions to test correlation established in any of the other four studies. In each study the participants–the majority of whom were white college students–completed the Big 5 index to establish a reference for existing trait levels. Hudson and Roberts also employed methods such as having their participants take a daily diary to measure concurrent behavior in relation to known change goals, and completing a newly developed scale named the Change Big Five Index or CBFI. This scale was developed to measure a participant’s desire to change their level of a given Big 5 trait.
The greatest strength of this study was the simplicity of its design. The four studies in the article were set up deliberately simply so that a strong relationship could be drawn between the participant’s responses on an index measuring existing trait levels and desired trait levels. This feature of the study allowed the researchers to concretely confirm that individuals do, in fact, wish to change their traits and that change goals do have an effect on behavior and thinking. The weakest part of this study was that the relationship between change goals and concurrent behavior wasn’t satisfactorily explained or established. In fairness, this objective was the most difficult of the study, but it seems that Roberts and Hudson couldn’t decide on whether or not change goals significantly influenced concurrent behavior.
With the question of do people want to change their personalities being confirmed, it now seems only logical to ask how people change. With the foundation of the knowledge that people do want to change their own trait levels, it would be fascinating to examine how individuals go about pursuing this desire. A study longitudinal study of how individual’s traits shift and change would seem most appropriate to accomplish such a task. Perhaps one could measure different life circumstances, such as life satisfaction, income, and the desire to change oneself to determine if one can change their personality with determination and will or if personality conforms to an individual’s lifestyle and is out of the control of free will for the most part. The idea of volitional will as an agent of change could be very important to the field of personality psychology, and Roberts and Hudson have laid a solid foundation for research to head in that direction.
Hudson, N. W., & Roberts, B. W. (2014). Goals to change personality traits: Concurrent links between personality traits, daily behavior, and goals to change oneself, Journal of Research in
Personality, 53, 68-83. doi: 10.1016/j.jrp.2014.08.008.