What is it about?

Our study investigated the conjoint development of nine life goals and the Big Five traits. Our results show that seven out of nine life goals changed in concert with at least one of the Big Five traits. First, we found that when personal growth goals changed (such as the goal to live a self-fulfilled life), people’s openness (that is how open-minded, imaginative, or creative they are) also changed. Second, we found that when economic success goals changed, people’s Conscientiousness (that is how organized, diligent, or dutiful they are) also changed. And finally, we found that when social goals changed (such as the goal of being there for others) people’s agreeableness (that is how cooperative, forgiving, and kind they are) also changed. Regarding the timing of conjoint changes, we found that more specific life goals like having children and career success only changed in conjunction with personality traits during the time in life when it is societally expected to raise children and establish a career (i.e., young and middle adulthood). Conjoint changes in personality traits and less specific life goals that can mean different things to different people (e.g., self-fulfillment) occurred across the entire lifespan.

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Why is it important?

Although most personality psychologists agree that life goals and the Big Five personality traits are closely related and critically relevant to capture an individual’s personality, they have mostly been studied in separate lines of research. This study was the first to use large-scale longitudinal survey data to examine conjoint change of life goals and the Big Five traits. Our findings highlight the role of changing opportunities, constraints, and developmental tasks for development across adulthood, especially for more specific life goals. For instance, conjoint change in the goal to have children and personality traits only occurred during young and middle adulthood, the time when social expectations as well as opportunities to achieve this goal are high and societal and biological constraints are low.


Our study provided evidence that many traits and life goals develop together. However, the question WHY they do so, remains to be answered. I hope that our study inspires further research that investigates the causal mechanisms of this association. For instance, changes in life goals could be one way for individuals to actively change their personality. Personality traits are known to change in a bottom-up process through repetition and affective rewarding of behavior and changes in life goals could be the motivational component that elicits this process.

Laura Buchinger
Socio-Economic Panel, Germany Institute for Economic Research, Berlin, Germany

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Codevelopment of life goals and the Big Five personality traits across adulthood and old age., Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, July 2023, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/pspp0000477.
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