8th Annual Scholarship (April 2007)
made to Dr. Patrick Heaven from Australia
on the subject of Individual differences and their impact on the psychological adjustment of emerging adults:
The Wollongong Youth Study
Report Abstract (691 words):
Stability and change in personality: Evidence from the Wollongong Youth Study
In 2003 my colleague Joseph Ciarrochi and I commenced The Wollongong Youth Study (WYS) which involved over 700 Grade 7 students, in 5 high schools in the State of New South Wales, Australia. The main aims of the WYS are to monitor the impact of a wide range of personality and individual difference factors on their trajectories of social, emotional, and academic adjustment. Students are now in their final year of high school and, with support from the Australian Research Council, we plan to continue tracking them into adulthood. An important feature of the WYS is that we collect self- and observer reports of participants, as well as objective measures such as school grades. Thus far, observer reports have been provided by peers and teachers. Funding from the HJ Eysenck Memorial Fund in 2007 allowed us to pay for additional teacher’s reports of our participants when they were in Grade 11.
We have collected four years of teacher ratings of emotional adjustment, behavioural problems, and overall adjustment. Observations have proven to be remarkably stable across time, even though different teachers have often completed the ratings from one year to the next. Thus, ratings of emotional problems in Grade 8 correlated >.40 with ratings of the same in Grade 11. The correlations for ratings of adjustment (Grades 8 and 11) were >.30, whilst those for behavioural problems were also >.30 (all ps < .001). Personality measured in Grade 7 was found to be significantly related to teacher ratings in Grade 11. In particular, Eysenckian psychoticism (P) was found to be the best predictor of teacher ratings of adjustment and behavioural problems.
Some personality variables are measured each year and this has allowed us to monitor change and stability of personality across the entire sample. The stability-instability of personality over the course of the life span has generated considerable research interest and debate. According to Roberts and DelVecchio (2000), personality stability during the teenage years tends to be somewhat lower than during the years of emerging and early adulthood or even early childhood. It has been found, for example, that the trait consistency of the major personality dimensions is less than .50 during the teenage years, whereas it is greater than .60 for 30-39 year olds. Thus, one would expect personality scores in the WYS to exhibit similar levels of instability.
Two measures that we have repeatedly assessed in the WYS are P and conscientiousness (C). P during Grade 7 correlated .53 (p < .001) with P as assessed in Grade 10, whilst C (Grade 7) correlated .58 (p < .001) with Grade 9 C. This is evidence of some stability, but clearly stability levels are far from unity. There was also a steady decline in mean C over the course of the first three years of high school and a concomitant steady rise in mean P scores during the first four years of high school. For example, mean P scores rose from 1.78 in Grade 7 to 2.70 (Grade 10). This increase in P and decline in C is in line with other researchers who have noted declines in self-esteem over the early teenage years (e.g. Harter & Whitesell, 2003). Our findings appear to be part of a consistent pattern of findings by a number of researchers, the results of which are reflective of the various challenges associated with this period of the lifespan. We plan to continue monitoring these changes and, using growth trajectory analyses, we are now in a strong position to ascertain the extent to which changes in personality across the high school years are related to outcomes such as academic performance, observers’ ratings of behaviour, peers’ ratings of popularity, and a number of other important outcomes.
Harter, S. & Whitesell, N. R. (2003). Beyond the debate: Why some adolescents report stable self-worth over time and situation, whereas others report changes in self-worth. Journal of Personality, 71, 1027-1058.
Roberts, B. W & DelVecchio, W. F. (2000). The rank-order consistency of personality traits from childhood to old age: A quantitative review of longitudinal studies. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 3-25.
Hans and Sybil Eysenck