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Personality Manipulation and Change Throughout Life

Article Author: Andrew Crichton

Introduction

In most text books, which were written more than 10 years ago, an individual’s personality was considered a relatively enduring characteristic immune to change. Contrary to such evidence, research these days tends to suggest personality has an ability to transform over time. Through this transformation, which does not have to be directly related to physical brain injury (Lishman, 1998), an individual can develop certain idiosyncrasies unlike their previous self. Although first characterized in the case of Phineas Gage, where an individual sustained damage to the frontal lobes and exhibited a differing personality, actual personality change can be brought on through a variety of causes such as mood disorders, brain disorders, illicit toxins and systemic diseases. Personality, as expressed by Funder (2007), is a complex machine unlike any other, and similar to any machine, has the likability to convolute, self destruct and be rebuilt, at varying stages throughout a person’s lifespan. These changes, throughout a person’s life, clearly suggests external factors such as stress, anxiety, depression as culpable assailants to ones persona, and as such, clearly gives evidence as to how personality can change, and in doing so, reshape an individual.

Theories of personality traits

Amongst the many theories of personality, few stand out to be sufficient in explaining how personality changes occur over time. Type theory, which was an early interpretation of personality, gave rise to only a set number of personality combinations, all with direct regard to biological manipulation. Similarly, trait theories also considered biological factors, asserting that inner genetic makeup actually determines ones personality, rather than the overall nurture principles which underlie in psychodynamic, behavioural and humanistic variances. The key theories which individually will be examined are the later, as they give strength to the possibility of personality change, and further accept that nurturing and environmental forces, outside of genetics, play a determining role in personality.

Psychodynamic theories were first characterized by Sigmund Freud, Carl Young and Melanie Klein, all exhibiting the same intention of discovering hidden truths behind the mind, formerly known as the ‘psych’. Through their work, which undoubtedly has influenced modern psychology, psychoanalysis developed understanding, even empathy towards a patient, fermenting a picture which then allows the psychologist to analyse the individual’s projection of the ‘self’. As Freud described it, the five elements involved internal psychological components, child hood experiences, unconscious motivation, existence of ego and superego, and the existence of defence mechanism. If an imbalance occurred, at any stage, a likely postulation of events could occur and affect the ‘superego’, and by doing so, affect a person’s personality in a coherent way. An instance of fluctuation, of a person’s ego, can manifest in many ways. A clarification of change, such as Roget’s, which is to deviate from a desired course, clearly emphasizes the prior initial studies initializing change. An example would be when an individual, on the brink of their 40th birthday, lapses into a mid-life crisis, realizing that their prior dream of being a rock star is unattainable, unachievable and impractical. Freud envisaged that although a child may be set in their ways, ‘personality wise’, by the time the Oedipus and Electra complexes are fulfilled, variations, such as social changes could still influence ones personality, which was further asserted by Anna Freud (1936), that although early development may have ceased, defence mechanism could still be implemented, thereby, manipulating the personality. Unlike many studies, which directly correlated and aggregated on group studies, psychoanalysis differs in that it is individually assesses, and thereby, does not constitute a relapse into direct bias’ of concurrent text book material.

Behavioural theories are similar to psychoanalysis in that they give leeway for personality change. They advocate that personality is a direct causation of interaction between individuals and their surroundings. Through studies of observable and measurable entities, a behaviourist approach dismisses what it considers ‘surreal’, such as internal dialogue, feelings and thoughts, and rather, concentrates on the real data to base its conclusions (Skinner, 1947). This ideal likely could help in determining personality difference, although, it would likely only form a clear grasp on mannerisms, rather than actual change in oneself. It was this shift away, from Freudianism conceptions, which gave rise to the study of Block Longinitudinal Projects (Block & Block, 1993). Through the investigations by Block (1993), it was found that not only did children continue to develop past five years, which Freud had asserted, but in accordance with Valliant (1976), it was found that altruism and sublimation actually doubled between the ages 20 and 35.

Humanistic theories on personality differ slightly from the previous, in that, they emphasize the notion of free will and the determinism of an individual and how they behave. The leading researchers were Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers who equally based their studies on what Maslow called the “self actualizing person”, whereby, those interested in the sustaining of personal growth aspire towards a self-actualization of eudemonia, through awareness, reality conception, spontaneity, and humour. According to Maslow, individuals appear to be autonomous and able to recognize what will indeed bring them happiness. It is this supposed subjectivity, whereby, an individual succumbs to an agreeability with their encounters, events and relations, that there is an ability to allow which connotes acceptance to adopt certain characteristic traits, or even to adapt to the environment. Through ‘social awareness’, which undeniably causes defence mechanisms, personality adopts, adapts and becomes accustomed to its surroundings, at any stage in life, which would lead to inevitable change.

Biological theories of personality evolved from the case of Phineas Gage, as previously stated, through his accident in 1848, and the use of varying imaging techniques to determine functionality of the brain. By looking at the regions of brain activity, and calculating the affects of the stimulation, doctors have been able to understand certain areas and construct documentation of it functionality. Richard Davidson initially discovered that the prefrontal cortex, amygalda manifests due to affluence in personality. Similarly, the hypostatic model of personality, devised by Tapu (1999), alluded to understanding the affects of illicit substances and disease, as well as the underlying change in personality which likely ensues in relation.

Personality change in children

One of the main issues when analysing a child’s personality is determining how to construct validity and certainty in results obtained through self monitoring questions Norman (1966). This is mostly due to self-report being underdeveloped at such age Eysenck (1975). Personality is mainly developed in preadolescent years, and can be seen through characteristics provided throughout a person’s life. An example would be that of a child who suffered fear, rejection and isolation, exhibiting levels high in depression, anxiety and low in acceptance and tolerance. The accumulation of stressful life events, such as a death, similarly impacts an impressionable personality to develop social constructions of what is ‘right’ and wrong, what is to be feared, and equally, what is to be embraced. Children, therefore, are likely to be absorbent of their environment, forming defence mechanisms, construing social normalities, and adjusting accordantly. Personality is likely to be directly related, and construed from the first trait systems, through psychoanalysis, and humanistic theory, personality can be seen as an outward spurt of individual autonomy and acceptance which develops throughout an entire life. The younger years of development, however, are the most important in setting examples, not only to affirm accustomed behaviours, but to construct the path which will be ‘cemented’ in the future.

During childhood, many trials and tribulations need to be overcome. These trialling situations endow, engrain and envision strengths and weaknesses that will be employed for the rest of the individual’s lifespan. An example, of an event influencing personality, would be a negative occurrence towards cars, whereby, whenever a car stops or veers towards that individual, fear and anxiety assimilate. Over many years, these fears, repressed from childhood, may evolve and eventually express through means outside social normality, which in itself shows a clear representation of how personality may change. As shown by Vaillant (1977), personality and its defence mechanisms develop in three phases, and in doing so, engrain at different stages varying reservations. Where although adults rarely suffer diverse variation of personality, those with Alzheimer’s, biological incidences and accidences likely would be impartial to change, and in doing so, would adapt due to their new situation. The use of psycho illicit drugs, although rarely used by children, can cause immense psychotic issues, such as those induced by mescaline, lysergic acid (LSD) and psilocybin, Unger (1963). The dramatic effects of drugs on the psyche, and the experience of ‘flash back’ occurrences, with the induced behaviour which impacts directly on the mind, disillusions the individual, and impacts upon the personality with inexplicable probability.

Amongst the tiers of personality issues, self induced biological dependents, such as ecstasy, LSD and psilocybin, only further diminish stability of persona. In the developmental periods of personality, to induce such ill fated ‘trips’ inevitably would constitute dire adverse reactions, as any deviant away from reality surely would cause lasting effects.

Personality change in adults

The first element in personality change, when considering adults, is the age which one can literally be instilled as being cement with ones personality. Modell (1989) transcribed also in the findings of Costa (1994), asserting that an adults personality is fully ‘plastered’ by the age of 30, and thereby, less likely to change. The stability inscribed with their studies, although seemingly assistive, does not limit a personality to being ‘cemented’, or hardened against ‘weathering’. The analogy used, no doubt, gives a clear understanding of the cracks which can appear over time, and just like the cracks that appear in some cement blocks, no doubt, others remain intact whilst some fall apart. This is likely where changes appear, where personality is transformed, ‘broken’, used, and then left to rekindle. Although change in personality for adults is less likely, and therefore, less substantial than of children, it often can leave lasting impression as to what the ensuing issue of change came into effect.

The implication of an adult changing personality, or developing different traits, is more likely observable then the occurrence of that in children because of two fundaments, sustainability and likeability. Since usually a personality becomes stable after adolescence, and individuals base their perception upon another’s personality, when change occurs, often people feel uncomfortable regarding whatever has changed. It seems that the discomfort, in the tendency to believe that deceit and mendacity is being played, disconcerts those around and forms negativity towards the newly auctioned fundament. In some cases, there is the ability, once determined, to revert back, ‘overlaying the repression’, but often does not occur.

Repression, the act of ingesting and eliciting endowed information, in psychodynamic studies, is the belief that once information has passed through the super-ego and ego the id can itself be reset. The medial reset, Finn (1986) examined change clearly affluent until the age of 30, through the onset of stability is nothing more than a pretence, clearly asserted in Costa and McRae (1988), whereby, testing was through long term acquaintances and wasn’t hindered by longitudinal studies. It was discovered that although personality is affixed by the age of 30, at 60 there is no difference. Previously, it was believed that personality was contingent on age, and through age development, it became less likely to change. Although the study determined that “personality among 60 year olds is no more stable than that of 30, by this age, personality is essentially fixed” Halverson (1999), “nothing in life is really permanent, although change past 30 is less likely, small changes do accumulate over a lifespan”.

Personality change throughout life

One of the key issues when determining a change of personality, throughout an individual’s life, is what deviates outside the realms of normality. Personality is inevitably going to go through great change during preadolescent years up until age 30, but when personality change is discussed, often it assimilates to a greater degree of change then that of a ‘untainted change’. Individuals themselves become accustomed to mannerisms, idiosyncrasies and invariable tendencies, and through them, acclimatize them with individuals. Studies conducted on both men and female, respectively, have concluded certain dissimilarity, such as differing favourableness, self confidence and dominance. As found with Costa and McRae (1988), positive emotion, activity and openness to action all changed in both cross auctioned and longitudinal studies. To an extent, personality change can be related to a myriad of differing occurrences, mostly in relation to defensive measures employed by the human psyche.

Conclusion

Many text books, written more than ten years ago, characterize personality as a directly enduring characteristic immune to change. Contrary to such evidence, research these days tends to suggest personality has an ability to transform over time. Through this transformation, which does not have to be directly related to physical brain injury Lishman, (1998), an individual can develop certain idiosyncrasies unlike their previous self. Although first characterized in the case of Phineas Gage, where an individual sustained damage to the frontal lobes and exhibited a differing personality, actual personality change can be brought on through a variety of causes such as mood disorders, brain disorders, illicit toxins and systemic diseases. Personality, as expressed by Funder (2007), is a complex machine unlike any other, and similar to any machine, has the likability to convolute, self destruct and be rebuilt, at varying stages throughout a person’s lifespan. These changes, throughout a person’s life, clearly suggests external factors such as stress, anxiety, depression as culpable assailants to ones persona, and as such, clearly gives evidence as to how personality can change, and in doing so, reshape an individual. This reshaping, however, needn’t be a negative. If anything, change in oneself can be a necessity to transform to become better suited to ones environment. Over time, these changes of adaption, which may nowadays be induced as ‘unaligned to oneself’, in the past, protected against adverse orders. These protections, inherited from prior generations, are not all bad, excluding psychopathic tendencies, which although only considered appalling because of social constructions of morality, inevitably gave rise to our existence, which in turn, must be similarly considered in context.

Over time, personality change is inevitable. It was previously believed that personality was contingent on age, and through age development, became less likely to change in influence to environmental factors. It was, rather, immune to surrounding affects due to conditioning of defence mechanisms, which was already adopted from past experience. Although the study determined that “personality among 60 year olds is no more stable than that of 30, by this age, personality is essentially fixed” Halverson (1999), “nothing in life is really permanent, although change past 30 is less likely, small changes do accumulate over a lifespan”. These small changes, such as mere mood tendency, are likely to be dismissed as reliant upon past experience, and are not considered dais to a person’s existence. When major personality issues arise; through an intense dramatic experience, prolonged relationships and or events, and lingering repressed ideologies, personality can adapt as a defensive mechanism and convert to social normality outside of acceptance. A change in personality only would procure alteration if the environment required it to. Such change, such as a need to defend against varying outer forms, such as in the drive of fight verses flight, a direct change of personality would be a clear interpretation of the self as a defence to exterior forces, therefore, expected in dire situations.

The literature available tends to assert personality change over time in inevitability, but issues with the testing procedures may actually have greater determinacy than once thought. When rating oneself on the big five questionnaire, for example, as age increases, so does self-love and acceptance. This correlation clearly shows that direct bias is introduced. As people age, acceptance of oneself, inadequacies as well, and how they rate themselves becomes positivistic over time. When considering such factors, normal change over time, may be independently observable throughout a lifespan by exterior inspection, but could not be directly accurate if not to examine the personal feelings associated, which in turn, actually become biased with age. It seems to be a paradigm, where although observable events such as obscure mannerisms may transgress, they may have been tendencies repressed and slowly arisen over a prolonged period. This said, direct factors which influence personality, such as severe depression, usually correlates from prior experiences and perception of oneself, excluding chemical imbalances.

It can therefore be concluded that personality psychology is not only diverse, it is clouded by an inconceivable amount of varying opinion, and that, rather than ‘cement’, personality seems affixed to personal judgment and observation rather than contingent entities. Personality no doubt changes throughout a lifespan, but usually in unnoticeable ways which often eludes detection. And although “personality among 60 year olds is no more stable than that of 30, by this age, personality is essentially fixed” Halverson (1999). Nothing in life, however, is truly permanent and immune to change. A more accommodating way of analysing personality change is to account for its diverse transition in regards to social norms. As seen by the research, change is an inevitability, but change in itself isn’t dire. This change of personality is usually directly related to the surrounding environment, and as such, as individuals grow, their surroundings are manipulated, and in doing so, their personality evolves and adapts, which is to be expected over a lifespan, as few stand still within their own existence to watch others leave them behind.

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