Welcome to our new Expert Q&A series! In this blog series we offer full, unrestricted access to the cluttered minds of our research team to answer your most pressing questions about personality, psychology, and psychometric tests. Have a question? Send it on over to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our first question is from our friend Areej...
Q. Can a person's personality type change? For example: I'm an INTJ but could I be an ENTJ when I grow up? Or could I have been ISFJ when I was younger?
A. If you asked Isabel Briggs Myers (the creator of personality types, with her mother, Katharine Briggs) or Carl Jung (the psychologist whose theories Briggs and Myers studied) they would say no, a person's personality type does not change. According to the theory they devised, personality type was fixed very early in life and it was not possible for the type to change with age or experience. Of course, a person could develop within their type, by becoming more aware of their strengths and/or weaknesses and developing new skills. But their underlying type was supposed to stay the same.
So that's the theory. But Briggs and Myers were just that—theorists—not scientists. They didn't do empirical studies on real people to extract data about their personality traits. Their ideas about personality type were created from books and personal observation, not large-scale data. So to completely answer your question, we have to look further, at the research that's been done since they came up with their ideas.
Personality psychologists who study large populations have found that indeed, shifts in personality do take place over time. There are some shifts that are common to many people and seem to have to do with the general effects of getting older. For example, people tend to become less Extraverted and more Introverted as they enter middle age. They also tend to become more concrete in their thinking, a shift that corresponds to being more Sensing and less Intuitive. Finally, older people are more likely to appreciate structure and order in their lives, which would make them more likely to identify as Judgers.
In addition to the personality changes you're likely to make with age, it's quite possible that your individual experiences might cause a shift in your personality. New circumstances, relationships, or challenges might make you discover things about yourself that you didn't know before. Especially if you are young, you may have spent more time living in a way that others impose on you, instead of being in touch with your own natural style. When you have a chance to make your own choices, you might find that your life looks very different.
When psychologists first devised the concept of personality, it was supposed to describe the aspects of people that met two major criteria: the qualities that made them different from each other, and the qualities that could be relied upon to stay the same over time. Unlike behavior, which could change unpredictably from moment to moment, psychologists thought that personality was pretty much set in stone. However, as it turns out, the human mind is a lot more complex than we gave it credit for (surprise, surprise!).
It's true that drastic shifts in personality are still very unusual, and most people find that changes are small, gradual, and subtle. If you've identified the personality type that fits you best, you may not ever change enough that you start to identify with a whole different type. But you're a work in progress, and you will discover new things about yourself for many years to come.