Do people ever change

Can People Change? When, How, and Why (or Why Not)

People can change but only if a few requirements are met, including self-awareness and willpower. There are some exceptions, though.

Your personality is shaped by a dynamic relationship between your interactions, temperament, and environments. Change is possible.

What does it mean for a person to change? Change is a sustained reinforcement of new behaviors and thinking patterns.

Changing who you are or how you behave may be possible through a collective understanding of attitudes, habits, behaviors, and personality traits.

Yes, changing your attitude is possible. But it may be difficult in some cases if you don’t explore the root cause of your current attitudes.

Attitude is defined by the American Psychological Association (APA) as “a relatively enduring and general evaluation of an object, person, group, issue, or concept on a dimension.” It comes from your beliefs, emotions, and past experiences and behaviors.

It’s possible to change your attitude when you understand how it is formed and how it impacts your life.

Sometimes, though, attitude is linked to emotional pain or hurtful past experiences. You may not be aware of this or, even if you are, your attitude in a certain situation may be a reaction to a trigger or an event that activates the pain.

Living with trauma, for example, may lead to a defensive attitude and affect how you respond to specific challenges.

“People who experience this may want to change,” says Jeffrey McQueen, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Nassau County and a licensed chemical dependency counselor. “But it’s not uncommon for someone who experienced trauma to prefer the lifesaving responses — because it’s what has saved their lives and allowed them to feel safe.”

Therapy may help resolve emotional and mental health challenges, and this could facilitate attitude change as well.

Yes, you can change your habits, both negative and positive. In fact, as you age, face new challenges, or engage in new routines, your habits may tend to change so you can adapt to the new circumstances.

But, there’s a distinction between habits and behaviors. In general, behavior is an action that can be observed and that comes as a response to internal or external influences.

Habits are behaviors you’ve repeated so often that they become automatic for you and no longer require your intention or conscious thought to be executed. For example, leaving your keys at the console table next to the door or getting that cigarette out whenever you feel anxious.

People can change habits by becoming aware of them and purposefully modifying that behavior enough times until the new habit becomes automatic.

Some habits may require you to explore their root cause, though. For example, if a habit is associated with anxiety, you may want to work at reducing anxiety first.

Before attempting to change what you think it’s a bad habit, it’s important to understand why you do it. This will help you sustain the change.

“For example, most people would identify smoking as a bad habit,” McQueen explains. “A person living with anxiety or bipolar disorder who utilizes smoking to calm and ground them may find this to be more of a coping tool versus a bad habit.”

Gaining this understanding may help you change a habit that may be harming you, like smoking, and replace it with effective coping skills.

“Yes, people can change, but it’s not that simple,” says Misty Smith, a licensed professional clinical counselor in Michigan.

Personality traits aren’t static and they may change with age and time. However, core personality traits tend to be longstanding, stable, and persistent.

Personality traits are your characteristic patterns of behaviors, thoughts, and emotions. For example, persistence, generosity, and honesty are personality traits.

These traits exist on a spectrum so you may be more or less persistent than your sibling even if both have that same characteristic trait.

“People evolve and change over time,” Smith says. “Our interests and approach to the world changes. Our experiences change who we are, and how we internalize and interpret the world around us.”

Because of this, you may be a generous person, but may in time become less generous with certain people or in specific scenarios, for example.

Core personality traits may be less likely to change, even at will.

Known as the Big Five, these core traits are:

  • extraversion
  • agreeableness
  • openness
  • conscientiousness
  • neuroticism

They also exist on a spectrum. For example, in the extraversion spectrum, you can be an introvert, an extrovert, or somewhere in between.

“It’s not as easy to change those core aspects,” Smith explained. So, it’s not likely to go from being an introvert to an extrovert, for example.

Yes, people can change behaviors, but they need to first become accountable for those, and then be convinced they should (or want to) change them.

Hurtful behaviors — such as lying, cheating, dismissing, or controlling — are often habits that turn into harmful behavior patterns. They may also be associated with mental health challenges, which makes change more difficult.

Research from 2020 explains personality may be shaped by an interaction between multiple sources, from genes to events and social relationships, rather than only one source.

Personality development isn’t linear, and change isn’t either. Though harmful behaviors may have begun as survival or coping mechanisms in childhood, the 2020 study showed positive influences and relationships, like friendships and family, can increase the chance for someone to change those behaviors.

“No one is born acting or behaving a particular way,” McQueen said. “Behavior is learned, and so it can also be unlearned. This implies that change is more than possible — it’s actually likely.”

When a hurtful behavior is associated with a mental health condition, though, professional support may be needed for people to change. Even then, depending on the condition, sometimes change isn’t likely.

For example, someone with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) may lack the insight to identify problematic behaviors or the need to change. They may also be less likely to seek support and resources when those behaviors impact their lives.

“People engage in behaviors that serve their purpose,” says Smith. “We engage in the behaviors that provide something for us.”

Ileana Arganda-Stevens, a licensed marriage and family therapist in California, says the capacity for change grows in the presence of six vital aspects:

  • motivation
  • support
  • determination
  • consistency
  • self-awareness
  • self-compassion

If you have a few or all of the above, you’re more likely to change behaviors, attitudes, or traits.

“When we start to show ourselves more self-compassion,” she says, “rigidity begins to relax, and we become more flexible and open to trying new things and making meaningful changes in our lives.

Motivation is also key, according to Smith.

You may want to change your attitude because it’s affecting your ability to maintain relationships; someone else may want to change their habits because they’re impacting their ability to contribute at work. Another person may want to change hurtful behaviors because they’re impacting their bond with their children.

Not everyone is willing or able to change, though.

This may be because it’s not the right time, or the individual may not realize there’s a need for change. Maybe they lack the insight to understand how the behavior or attitude is affecting their lives. Maybe these behaviors are linked to emotional pain or trauma, and until that is resolved, change is more challenging.

Why people don’t want to change depends on the situation. “The pattern or habit is a tool that allows the person to cope with a deeper struggle,” explains Smith.

People can change when they’re self-aware, receive support, and become intentional about behaving differently.

But, change takes time and it may be challenging in some cases. For example, if you live with a mental health condition that involves lifelong symptoms that may impact your attitude, habits, and behaviors.

Do People Really Change? | Psychology Today

Source: Travis Seera/Pexels

"Personality" is a word used to describe traits that are consistent across time and place. For example, we expect a highly extraverted person to be outgoing at home, at work, and at school. While personality is not a perfect predictor of behavior, it does give us a general idea of how someone is likely to think and act.

The authors of a new review article note that personality can change over long periods of time—for example, we tend to become more responsible and emotionally stable as we age. These changes generally unfold over many years, and seem to reflect a natural developmental process.

The researchers set out to answer an important related question: Can treatment change personality over a short period of time? They focused on the "Big Five" personality traits of extraversion, emotional stability, openness, conscientiousness, and agreeableness.

Roberts and colleagues reviewed over 200 studies that measured personality traits both before and after some type of intervention and included a control group. Interventions included primarily medications and various forms of psychotherapy for a psychological condition, and lasted 24 weeks on average. Their analyses revealed some intriguing results:

  1. Treatment can indeed change personality. Average changes were in the small-to-medium range, suggesting they would be noticeable to the individual and people in his or her life. For example, a person who's easily upset may have an easier time handling stressors. The effects on personality were the same regardless of age or sex.
  2. Personality changes endured over time. Many of the studies the authors reviewed included a follow-up period after the treatment ended, lasting on average about 6 months. Treatment-related changes held steady or even increased during the follow-up interval, even a year or more later.
  3. Some personality traits were more responsive to treatment. The largest effect was on emotional stability (the reverse of neuroticism), the smallest on openness to experience. Extraversion showed the second greatest change. The authors note that these differences could reflect traits that are more likely to change, but could also reflect what the treatments were targeting. For example, treatment of anxiety or depression would focus on increasing emotional stability.
  4. A wide range of interventions led to personality change. Although cognitive behavioral and supportive therapies has slightly larger effects, other types of treatment were also effective, with medication showing the smallest effect.
  5. Amount of change depended on what the treatment was for. People being treated for anxiety and personality disorders (not surprisingly) changed the most, while those receiving treatment for eating and substance use disorders showed the least personality change.

What are the implications of these findings? First, as the authors note, they suggest that personality change can happen relatively quickly. Additional analyses showed that treatment needed to last for at least 4 weeks to significantly affect personality. However, after 8 weeks, additional treatment did not lead to greater change.

The authors had an important caveat: It's possible that a person's personality may have changed as a result of the condition that brought the person to treatment. For example, an episode of depression may have significantly decreased a person's level of emotional stability.

Source: Katii Bishop/Pexels

Thus what looks like an increase in emotional stability due to treatment could actually be an effect of treatment on depression, which subsequently restores the person's pre-depression emotional stability. This explanation cannot be ruled out based on existing data.

I do suspect, based on my own experience as a therapist, that a lot of the personality change in treatment is actually a return to a person's level of functioning before their anxiety, depression, or other condition. People often come to treatment because they feel like they're not their best selves—no longer as patient, agreeable, relaxed, or outgoing. As treatment takes hold people often describe feeling "more like themselves" again. Family members will say they feel like they have their loved one back.

If you've thought about starting therapy because you feel disconnected from the person you used to be, consider this additional benefit of treatment: You'll probably feel not just better but more like the best version of you.

Find me on the Think Act Be website, Facebook, and Twitter.

How to change for the better

Irina Postnikova

is constantly changing

Author's profile

Not so long ago, scientists were sure that a person's personality remains unchanged until death.

But now the plasticity of the brain is a scientific fact, and there is a lot of evidence that a person can change under the influence of circumstances and with the help of conscious efforts. We tell you exactly how this happens and whether it is possible to completely reshape your personality.

What is personality

To describe and define the psychological traits of a person, specialists usually use the Big Five personality model. It suggests that personality is a combination of five traits that manifest themselves when interacting with other people:

  1. Extraversion. How sociable and positive a person is.
  2. Kindness. How sensitive he is to others, empathic, ready to seek compromises in case of conflicts, accommodating.
  3. Integrity. How disciplined, responsible, competent.
  4. Openness to experience. How receptive to new ideas and ready to do something unusual.
  5. Neuroticism / emotional stability. How anxious, depressed, shy, and vulnerable a person is.

In order to more or less accurately determine how strong or weak certain traits are in a person, scientists use special tests. But it is not necessary to go through them. By the age of twenty, many of us already know about our level of sociability, conscientiousness and other personality traits. But studies show that usually people want to change something, or even everything, in their personality.


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This desire is understandable. Personality traits determine a lot in life: from family life and career to health. For example, research shows that people with high levels of conscientiousness find it easier to find and keep a job, generally earn higher salaries, and move up the corporate ladder faster. In addition, conscientious people live longer. Apparently, because it is easier for them to stick to healthy habits.

A pronounced openness to new things makes people more creative. And goodwill increases the chances of a strong marriage. Extroverts, on the other hand, are usually happier because they have a wide network of social contacts and they have someone to rely on in a difficult moment.

People with a high level of neuroticism have the hardest time: social contacts are not easy for them, and in other areas they often feel insecure. All this makes life difficult.


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How personality is formed

Personality is formed by many factors, but genetics is one of the most important. This has already been shown by many studies involving twins and twins. In the most famous of them, a group of American scientists examined in detail the life of two identical twins who were separated at the age of three weeks and did not know about the existence of each other for many years. They only met at 39 and yet grew up very similar: they had almost the same personality test scores, brainwave measurements, similar behavior in different situations, similar hobbies, and even gave the same names to dogs that they had in childhood.

Other studies have also shown that genetics even influence political views. In twins, they were very similar, but in ordinary brothers and sisters they were more likely to differ, because their genes are not identical.

However, not everything is determined by genetics. Other factors influencing personality: the conditions in which a person grew up, as well as life experience. For example, how a child was treated by parents affects how he builds relationships in adulthood. And a person who is genetically prone to friendliness, being in an environment that causes him severe stress, can become quick-tempered and intolerant.


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Can personality change

Sigmund Freud and many of his followers believed that a person's personality is formed by the age of five. And after that, it remains unchanged.

But modern research shows that Freud was not entirely right: although the framework of personality remains stable throughout life, its features in most people change little by little until old age. And for the better.

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This is confirmed by a 50-year study of 1795 volunteers in the UK. It began in 1960, when scientists first asked volunteers to take a test that determined their severity of personality traits. In 2010, the procedure was repeated. It turned out that over the past years, volunteers in general have become more calm, accurate and socially responsible, less impulsive. In addition to this, men have increased self-confidence, and women have increased sensitivity. Thanks to other studies, it became known that personality traits change most actively between the ages of 20 and 40 years. And by 65, the process slows down.

There is a hypothesis that these changes occur naturally in the process of changing social roles, to each of which society makes certain demands. For example, if a person’s work is very important, he becomes more responsible in everything related to it. And if he puts a lot of effort into developing relationships with other people, this increases his self-confidence and emotional stability. Important life events such as marriage, the birth of children, the death of loved ones, mental disorders and serious head injuries can also change the severity of personality traits.

How you can consciously change your personality

This will require a lot of time and effort. And the changes are unlikely to be stunning: it will not be possible to become a new personality, but it will be possible to slightly correct some of its features.

One of the methods was developed by the American psychologist Nathan Hudson. He suggests not setting yourself global goals like: I want to become a sociable king of parties. Instead, create a program of not very complex, but unusual actions that would be natural for a person with personality traits that you lack. The second step is to do one of these things regularly. After a few months, you will see changes.

Hudson's advice is based on one of his successful experiments. In 2016, he, along with colleagues, recruited a group of student volunteers, each of whom wanted to change one of their personality traits. They were divided into two groups: main and control. After that, participants in each of them received reminders for 15 weeks that they wanted to change. The difference was that the students in the main group were offered specific actions to change their behavior by the leaders of the experiment. For example, those who wanted to become more sociable were advised to call a friend and invite them to dinner. At the end of the experiment, scientists measured the effect: small but positive changes were found in participants in both groups. But those who received specific recommendations, which means they knew what to do, had better results.

Hudson also gives examples of specific actions that help change personality traits.


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To increase extraversion:

  1. Before going to bed, reflect on the positive social experiences you had during the day. Focus on what you especially liked about it.
  2. Say hello to cashiers in supermarkets more often.
  3. Come up with a list of questions to ask strangers when they first meet.
  4. Think of responses you like to common questions people usually ask each other at parties. And rehearse them.
  5. Call a friend you haven't talked to in a while.
  6. Find a volunteer organization you like and go to a meeting.
  7. If a group of people playing football or basketball regularly gather at a sports field near you, ask if you can join them.
  8. When someone wants to know your opinion about something, be honest about what you think.
  9. Be open with your friends, for example try to be sincere in telling them about your problems.

To reduce neuroticism:

  1. When you wake up, say out loud to yourself: today I decide to be happy.
  2. When you are overwhelmed with negative emotions and you feel like you are losing control, take a few deep breaths in and out.
  3. Before you go to bed, make a list of the things that made you happy today.
  4. Tell other people more often how you appreciate them and what you are grateful for.
  5. If you are religious, spend the last few minutes before going to bed in prayer. If you are not religious, try meditating.
  6. Spend at least a couple of minutes a day writing a diary: describe how your day went and your feelings.
  7. If you are anxious about an upcoming event, remember how you have dealt with similar situations in the past.
  8. Go on a photo hunt. For 30 minutes, take pictures of everything that brings you happiness: beautiful flowers, food, a comfortable bed, yourself. It is not necessary to post all this on social networks.
  9. When you find yourself having negative thoughts about something, don't suppress them. And try to counterbalance three sincere positive thoughts on the same topic.


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Another effective way to reduce neuroticism and increase extraversion is psychotherapy. Scientists from the University of Illinois, after analyzing more than 200 studies, found that after an average of three months of working with a psychotherapist, people felt more emotionally stable, and their communication skills became slightly better.

But there is an important condition. In order to change, people must sincerely want it. Also, believe in your ability to change. Nothing will work without this.


“Understood that there are no unsolvable problems”: 7 stories about how psychotherapy changed lives . The degree of their severity is influenced by genetic characteristics, external circumstances and life experience. Over the course of life, personality traits change slightly: somewhere around the age of 50, people become more responsible and emotionally stable. But you can also change on your own by starting to regularly behave like a person with those traits that you lack. Another effective way is psychotherapy.

People change. Scientific data - Psychologos

The phrase “people don’t change” sounds from all irons - especially if the iron is disappointed with the behavior of the owner (for example, he presses the “Steam” button too hard again).

But what evidence does this phrase have? Observations from life? These are not proofs - observations are subject to cognitive distortions, so they cannot be trusted.

We need scientific data - with normal mathematical statistics, sampling, and so on.

And there is such data. Two recent studies have shown that it is possible for a person to change, but desire alone is not enough. We also need to act (hello, Captain Obvious).

That's how the research went. Participants were asked to take a test to assess their current level. The Big Five personality traits (extroversion, neuroticism, openness, conscientiousness, and "accommodation") were assessed.

Participants were then asked to choose what they wanted to change. And then the paths diverged. Someone did nothing, but just wanted to. Someone was thinking about ways to change. And someone just did things to develop this or that trait.

For example, to develop extraversion, you could say hello to different people or take on the leadership of some project (for example, organize a barbecue trip).

The result is natural. After passing the test again, people saw that they had moved in the desired directions. Who wanted to become more open - became so. Whoever wanted to be more conscientious, he became such.

Researchers emphasize that the most important thing is the number of successful actions in the right direction. For example, if a person greeted different people thirty times (a salesman, a waiter, a security guard at the checkpoint, and so on), and he was answered with a counter greeting twenty-eight times, a shift in the right direction occurs.

If he said hello twice, and received a return greeting only once, then the shift will most likely be in the opposite direction.

This explains why people don't change. People try to change, they fail, and they immediately give up trying.

But I have always said that change is relearning, and it is impossible to relearn quickly. You need at least twice as much time as it took you to learn.

Overall, the findings are optimistic and support the development mindset identified by Carol Dweck: if you know change is possible, act in the right direction, and have a generally positive experience, then change will happen.

It will happen for the simple reason that personality traits are largely skills. And, therefore, you can always relearn - create a new skill for yourself.

And I have everything, thank you for your attention.


  1. “Volitional personality trait change: Can people choose to change their personality traits?” Hudson, Nathan W., Fraley, R. Chris. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 109(3), Sep 2015, 490-507
  2. Hudson, N.
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