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Personality Trait Development From Age 12 to Age 18: Longitudinal, Cross-Sectional, and Cross-Cultural Analyses Robert R. McCrae, Paul T. Costa, Jr., and Antonio Terracciano National Institute on Aging Wayne D. Parker and Carol J. Mills Johns Hopkins University Filip De Fruyt and Ivan Mervielde Ghent University Three studies were conducted to assess mean level changes in personality traits during adolescence. Versions of the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (P. T. Costa, Jr., & R. R. McCrae, 1992a) were used to assess the 5 major personality factors. A 4-year longitudinal study of intellectually gifted students (N 230) was supplemented by cross-sectional studies of nonselected American (N 1,959) and Flemish (N 789) adolescents. Personality factors were reasonably invariant across ages, although rank-order stability of individual differences was low. Neuroticism appeared to increase in girls, and Openness to Experience increased in both boys and girls; mean levels of Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Consci- entiousness were stable. Results extend knowledge of the developmental curve of personality traits backward from adulthood and help bridge the gap with child temperament studies. Personality development has traditionally been studied in very different ways by child psychologists and gerontologists. Although some child developmentalists have studied traits and tempera- ments (Rothbart, Ahadi, & Evans, 2000; Shiner, 1998), many have emphasized personality types (e.g., Robins, John, Caspi, Moffitt, & Stouthamer-Loeber, 1996). Child developmentalists have relied chiefly on parent, teacher, or observer ratings (e.g., Block, 1993) and have been closely guided by theory (e.g., Westenberg, Blasi, & Cohn, 1998). Adult developmentalists have more often studied personality traits (Siegler, George, & Okun, 1979), used self- reports (Helson & Wink, 1992), and focused on systematic empir- ical investigations (Costa & McCrae, 1992b). Results of these two traditions do not easily mesh. Although a few studies have related observed types in childhood to self-reported traits in adolescence (Hart, Hofmann, Edelstein, & Keller, 1997) or adulthood (Caspi, 2000), the associations are typically modest in magnitude, and there is at present no clear picture of personality development across the full life span. The focus of the present article is on mean levels of traits in adolescence. Do boys and girls become more psychologically adjusted, socially active, or intellectually curious as they go through junior high and high school? Answers to those questions depend on the use of instruments that are sensitive to mean level change. Q-sorts, often used in developmental research (Block, 1993; Robins et al., 1996), are not optimal, because their ipsative format potentially distorts mean level changes. Standard person- ality scales developed for use in children or adolescents, such as the Junior Eysenck Personality Inventory (JEPI; Eysenck, 1963) or the High School Personality Questionnaire (HSPQ; Cattell, Cattell, & Johns, 1984), could of course be used in this age group, but the results would not be directly comparable to adult findings from adult instruments. In this article, we exploit the recent demonstra- tion that adult personality measures can be meaningfully used in adolescent samples (De Fruyt, Mervielde, Hoekstra, & Rolland, 2000; Parker & Stumpf, 1998) to extend previous knowledge of adult development back to early adolescence. Personality Development in Adulthood Contemporary views on adult development in personality traits can be traced to the late 1970s, when results from a series of longitudinal studies began to appear (Block, 1977; Costa & Mc- Crae, 1978; Douglas & Arenberg, 1978; Siegler et al., 1979). Previous theoretical positions (Erikson, 1950; Gould, 1972; Levin- son, Darrow, Klein, Levinson, & McKee, 1978) had emphasized predictable changes in personality, but the existing empirical lit- Robert R. McCrae, Paul T. Costa, Jr., and Antonio Terracciano, Per- sonality, Stress and Coping Section, National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland; Wayne D. Parker and Carol J. Mills, Center for Talented Youth, Johns Hopkins University; Filip De Fruyt and Ivan Mervielde, Department of Psychology, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium. Wayne D. Parker is now at the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, Phoenix, Arizona. Portions of this article were presented at the meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, February 2000, Nashville, Tennessee, and the Inaugural Conference of the Association for Research in Person- ality, February 2001, San Antonio, Texas. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Robert R. McCrae, Box 3, Gerontology Research Center, 5600 Nathan Shock Drive, Baltimore, Maryland 21224-6825. Email: [email protected] Journal of Personality and Social Psychology In the public domain 2002, Vol. 83, No. 6, 1456 –1468 DOI: 10.1037//0022-3514.83.6.1456 1456

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Page 1: Personality Trait Development From Age 12 to Age 18: … · 2016. 3. 1. · Personality Development in Adulthood Contemporary views on adult development in personality traits can

Personality Trait Development From Age 12 to Age 18: Longitudinal,Cross-Sectional, and Cross-Cultural Analyses

Robert R. McCrae, Paul T. Costa, Jr., andAntonio Terracciano

National Institute on Aging

Wayne D. Parker and Carol J. MillsJohns Hopkins University

Filip De Fruyt and Ivan MervieldeGhent University

Three studies were conducted to assess mean level changes in personality traits during adolescence.Versions of the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (P. T. Costa, Jr., & R. R. McCrae, 1992a) were usedto assess the 5 major personality factors. A 4-year longitudinal study of intellectually gifted students (N �230) was supplemented by cross-sectional studies of nonselected American (N � 1,959) and Flemish(N � 789) adolescents. Personality factors were reasonably invariant across ages, although rank-orderstability of individual differences was low. Neuroticism appeared to increase in girls, and Openness toExperience increased in both boys and girls; mean levels of Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Consci-entiousness were stable. Results extend knowledge of the developmental curve of personality traitsbackward from adulthood and help bridge the gap with child temperament studies.

Personality development has traditionally been studied in verydifferent ways by child psychologists and gerontologists. Althoughsome child developmentalists have studied traits and tempera-ments (Rothbart, Ahadi, & Evans, 2000; Shiner, 1998), many haveemphasized personality types (e.g., Robins, John, Caspi, Moffitt,& Stouthamer-Loeber, 1996). Child developmentalists have reliedchiefly on parent, teacher, or observer ratings (e.g., Block, 1993)and have been closely guided by theory (e.g., Westenberg, Blasi,& Cohn, 1998). Adult developmentalists have more often studiedpersonality traits (Siegler, George, & Okun, 1979), used self-reports (Helson & Wink, 1992), and focused on systematic empir-ical investigations (Costa & McCrae, 1992b). Results of these twotraditions do not easily mesh. Although a few studies have relatedobserved types in childhood to self-reported traits in adolescence(Hart, Hofmann, Edelstein, & Keller, 1997) or adulthood (Caspi,

2000), the associations are typically modest in magnitude, andthere is at present no clear picture of personality developmentacross the full life span.

The focus of the present article is on mean levels of traits inadolescence. Do boys and girls become more psychologicallyadjusted, socially active, or intellectually curious as they gothrough junior high and high school? Answers to those questionsdepend on the use of instruments that are sensitive to mean levelchange. Q-sorts, often used in developmental research (Block,1993; Robins et al., 1996), are not optimal, because their ipsativeformat potentially distorts mean level changes. Standard person-ality scales developed for use in children or adolescents, such asthe Junior Eysenck Personality Inventory (JEPI; Eysenck, 1963) orthe High School Personality Questionnaire (HSPQ; Cattell, Cattell,& Johns, 1984), could of course be used in this age group, but theresults would not be directly comparable to adult findings fromadult instruments. In this article, we exploit the recent demonstra-tion that adult personality measures can be meaningfully used inadolescent samples (De Fruyt, Mervielde, Hoekstra, & Rolland,2000; Parker & Stumpf, 1998) to extend previous knowledge ofadult development back to early adolescence.

Personality Development in Adulthood

Contemporary views on adult development in personality traitscan be traced to the late 1970s, when results from a series oflongitudinal studies began to appear (Block, 1977; Costa & Mc-Crae, 1978; Douglas & Arenberg, 1978; Siegler et al., 1979).Previous theoretical positions (Erikson, 1950; Gould, 1972; Levin-son, Darrow, Klein, Levinson, & McKee, 1978) had emphasizedpredictable changes in personality, but the existing empirical lit-

Robert R. McCrae, Paul T. Costa, Jr., and Antonio Terracciano, Per-sonality, Stress and Coping Section, National Institute on Aging, NationalInstitutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland; Wayne D. Parker and Carol J.Mills, Center for Talented Youth, Johns Hopkins University; Filip DeFruyt and Ivan Mervielde, Department of Psychology, Ghent University,Ghent, Belgium.

Wayne D. Parker is now at the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust,Phoenix, Arizona.

Portions of this article were presented at the meeting of the Society forPersonality and Social Psychology, February 2000, Nashville, Tennessee,and the Inaugural Conference of the Association for Research in Person-ality, February 2001, San Antonio, Texas.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Robert R.McCrae, Box 3, Gerontology Research Center, 5600 Nathan Shock Drive,Baltimore, Maryland 21224-6825. Email: [email protected]

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology In the public domain2002, Vol. 83, No. 6, 1456–1468 DOI: 10.1037//0022-3514.83.6.1456

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erature, consisting largely of cross-sectional comparisons, pro-vided little support for these theories or any other consistentpattern of developmental change (Neugarten, 1977). The newlongitudinal results, however, were clear and consistent: Afterage 30, most of the traits examined changed little in absolute level,and individual differences were strongly preserved over long pe-riods of time (McCrae & Costa, 1984). That conclusion wasextended and modified by many subsequent cross-sectional andlongitudinal studies on samples ranging in age from 18 to 90.

The pattern of findings can be summarized in terms of thefive-factor model of personality (FFM; Digman, 1990), whichprovides a comprehensive framework for the systematic assess-ment of traits and their development (McCrae & John, 1992). Thefactors are usually named Neuroticism (N), Extraversion (E),Openness to Experience (O), Agreeableness (A), and Conscien-tiousness (C), and each is defined by a number of more specifictraits or facets. Together, these traits account for emotional, inter-personal, experiential, attitudinal, and motivational styles, and theFFM has been widely adopted in such fields as clinical (Costa &Widiger, 2002), industrial/organizational (Judge, Higgins, Thore-sen, & Barrick, 1999), and health psychology (Smith & Williams,1992).

Adult trait development can be succinctly summarized by thestatement that N, E, and O show moderate declines from collegeage to age 30 and thereafter continue to decline slowly; A and Cincrease from 18 to 30. There are conflicting findings about thecourse of A and C after age 30 (Costa, Herbst, McCrae, & Siegler,2000; McCrae et al., 1999), although any changes must be verysmall in magnitude. In addition, the traits defining each factorshow some variation in developmental patterns. For example,Excitement Seeking, a definer of Extraversion, decreases markedlyfrom college age to middle adulthood, whereas Activity, anotherfacet of Extraversion, shows little, if any, decline (Costa, McCraeet al., 2000).

These conclusions are based chiefly on American research, buta series of cross-cultural studies replicated them and suggest thatthese patterns are universal maturational trends (Costa, McCrae etal., 2000; McCrae et al., 1999; McCrae et al., 2000). All thesestudies used translations of the Revised NEO Personality Inven-tory (NEO–PI–R; Costa & McCrae, 1992a) or its short form, theNEO Five-Factor Inventory (NEO–FFI; Costa & McCrae, 1992a).Both instruments measure the five factors; the NEO–PI–R inaddition assesses six specific traits, or facets, per factor. Compar-isons within culture of mean scores for college-age and olderadults showed decreases with age in N, E, and O and increases inA and C. These findings suggest that with age, adults become lessemotional and better socialized.

Robins, Fraley, Roberts, and Trzesniewski (2001) have recentlyclarified the timing of these changes by providing data on person-ality traits from the beginning to the end of college. They reportedsignificant increases (of one quarter to one half standard deviation)in O, A, and C and a significant decrease (one half standarddeviation) in N over this 4-year interval. The effects for N, A, andC are expectable from previous research on the developmentaltrends for these variables between college and adulthood, but theincrease in O is apparently inconsistent with the long-term declinein that factor. Increases in O (as well as A and C) were alsoreported in another longitudinal study of college students (Gray,

Haig, Vaidya, & Watson, 2001). It thus appears that O shows acurvilinear pattern, increasing during college but ultimately de-clining by age 30.

Some support for that view is offered by one of the cross-cultural comparisons (McCrae et al., 2000). In that study, theNEO–FFI was administered to five age groups, including adoles-cents aged 14–17, in Germany, Great Britain, the Czech Republic,and Turkey. These adolescents generally scored highest in N andE and lowest in A and C, continuing the trends seen in lateradulthood. However, in the German and British samples, adoles-cents scored lower in O than did college age students. These datasuggest the hypothesis that personality development during ado-lescence continues backward the monotonic trends for N, E, A, andC found in older adults and continues the curvilinear trend sug-gested for O by Robins et al.’s (2001) results in combination withpreviously documented declines in O during adulthood (Costa &McCrae, 1994).

Personality Development in Adolescence

Perhaps the most striking aspect of psychological developmentduring adolescence is the growth of knowledge and intellectualcapacity. Piaget (1952) placed the final stage of cognitive devel-opment, formal operational thinking, in early adolescence, andperformance on intelligence tests continues to increase across mostof the period (Cattell et al., 1984). Personality development issometimes viewed as a similar progress toward higher stagescharacterized by more differentiated thinking and feeling, andresearchers have documented normative increases in moral judg-ment (Rest, 1979) and ego development (Westenberg et al., 1998).

Much of the remaining research on personality in adolescencehas emphasized the problems common to this age period. Arnett(1999) summarized the evidence for considering adolescence aperiod of storm and stress. Although he acknowledged the mod-erating influences of individual and cultural differences, he con-cluded that this is, in general, a difficult period of life. Conflictswith parents, criminality, risk taking, and depression appear morecommon in adolescence than in the periods before and after.Robins, Trzesniewski, Tracy, Gosling, and Potter (2002) reporteda steep decline in self-esteem from age 9 to age 13, especially forgirls, and a very gradual increase thereafter at least until age 70.Although difficulties during adolescence may be attributable tobiological or sociological causes, they may also reflect in part theoperation of personality traits. Interpersonal conflicts are associ-ated with low A (Costa, McCrae, & Dembroski, 1989), depressionand low self-esteem are associated with N (Bagby, Joffe, Parker,Kalemba, & Harkness, 1995), and risk taking is related to high E(Goma i Freixanet, 1991) and low C (Trobst et al., 2000).

The problems characteristic of adolescence are thus consistentwith the personality profiles—high N and E, low A and C—ofcollege-age men and women, who are often considered to be olderadolescents (e.g., Arnett, 1999). At present, however, little isknown about traits in younger adolescents or about age differencesor changes in mean levels of personality traits during the period ofadolescence itself. Are the characteristics of college students seenin exaggerated form in junior high school students? Do N and Epeak in high school?

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In contrast to the changes reported from age 18 to age 21, somedata suggest that mean levels show little or no change from age 12to age 18. Arrindell, Van Faassen, and Pereira (1986) examined alarge sample of adolescents aged 13 to 20 and found no consistentpattern of age differences on self-report measures of psychologicaldistress. They concluded that these measures “were not apprecia-bly affected by either age or grade” (p. 731). Kulas (1996), in a2-year longitudinal study of 14-year olds, reported no significantchanges in the mean level of locus of control.

Graziano, Jensen-Campbell, and Finch (1997) administered ad-jective measures of the five factors to students in the fifth througheighth grade and found no age differences in personality. Incontrast to the unmistakable growth of intelligence during adoles-cence, personality traits seem to show little evidence of develop-ment. If there are reliable effects, they must be subtle, and largesamples, powerful designs, and well-constructed measures will beneeded to detect them.

Measuring Adolescent Personality

Ratings by parents, teachers, and other adult observers clearlydemonstrate that personality among adolescents can be describedin terms of the same five factors found in adults (Digman &Inouye, 1986; John, Caspi, Robins, Moffitt, & Stouthamer-Loeber,1994). Indeed, even in descriptions of school-age children, termsfrom all five factors emerge spontaneously in free parental de-scriptions (Kohnstamm, Halverson, Mervielde, & Havill, 1998).To date, however, developmental changes in mean levels haverarely been addressed with parent ratings. Lanthier (1993) com-pared middle childhood (aged 10–11) and adolescent (aged 13–14)samples on mother and father ratings (and self-reports) of the fivefactors. Across all sources, he found evidence of higher C amongadolescents but no differences on the other factors.

Most of the literature on adult trait development has usedself-reports. However, the use of self-report personality measuresin adolescents remains controversial (Luby, Svrakic, McCallum,Przybeck, & Cloninger, 1999): Do boys and girls understand thequestions? Do they know themselves well enough to respondaccurately? Are the items relevant? Many researchers have as-sumed that adult personality inventories are necessarily inappro-priate for children as young as 12, and new, simplified inventorieshave been developed (Barbaranelli, Caprara, Rabasca, & Pas-torelli, in press; Cattell et al., 1984; Eysenck, 1963; Luby et al.,1999). Parker and Stumpf (1998), however, worked with a sampleof intellectually gifted children with an adult reading level andwere thus able to assess the validity of an adult instrument in sixthgraders. They administered the NEO–FFI along with other person-ality measures; parents of the students provided independent rat-ings on several instruments. Analyses showed that the students’self-reports were reliable and valid. For example, children whoscored high on N were described by their parents as nervous,touchy, moody, not confident, whereas those who scored high on Owere described as original, insightful, unconventional, and inter-ests wide. Parallel results were reported by Schmidt, Lubinski, andBenbow (1998) in their study of the validity of adult vocationalpreference measures in a sample of gifted 13-year olds.

De Fruyt et al. (2000) administered the Flemish version of thefull NEO–PI–R to a large and reasonably representative sample of

schoolchildren aged 12 to 18. Children were instructed to omititems if they did not understand them or if they did not apply. Mostchildren answered most items, and De Fruyt and colleaguesshowed that the resulting scores were reliable and valid andyielded the same factor structure as that seen in adults, even whenthe data for the 12–14-year olds were analyzed separately. Thesedata suggest that psychologists may have underestimated the ca-pacity of adolescents to comprehend and relate to adult personalityitems.

Factor Invariance in Developmental Research

As Horn and McArdle (1992) noted, age changes and agedifferences can properly be assessed only if the same construct ismeasured at each age; for factored instruments, this implies thatthe factors are invariant. Most developmental researchers merelyassume factor invariance, but Horn and McArdle argued persua-sively that it should be explicitly tested. There is, however, somecontroversy over the best way to assess invariance. Structuralequation modeling is often advocated (Byrne, 2001; Horn &McArdle, 1992). In this approach, confirmatory factor analysis(CFA) is conducted on two or more samples simultaneously, withand without the constraint that the factor loadings be equal acrossgroups. If the unconstrained model fits significantly better thandoes the constrained model, the hypothesis of invariance isrejected.

McCrae, Zonderman, Costa, Bond, and Paunonen (1996), how-ever, argued that CFA is not a robust technique, especially asapplied to personality measures, for which simple structure is oftenan unrealistic model. They showed that congruence coefficientsbetween varimax- or targeted-rotation solutions provide a reliableguide to factor replicability (or invariance). This approach isconsistent with the advice of Leland Wilkinson and the Task Forceon Statistical Inference (1999), who noted that “although complexdesigns and state-of-the-art methods are sometimes necessary toaddress research questions effectively, simpler classical ap-proaches often can provide elegant and sufficient answers toimportant questions” (p. 598). In this article we use both ap-proaches to assess factor invariance.

The present study examines adolescent personality trait devel-opment in three samples using self-reports on instruments devel-oped for adults. Parker and Stumpf’s (1998) data provided thebaseline for a 4-year longitudinal study of age changes in the fivefactors. To examine a more representative group of adolescentsunselected for academic talent, we obtained cross-sectional datafrom high school students on the full NEO–PI–R. To extendfindings cross-culturally, we conducted cross-sectional analyses ofdata gathered by De Fruyt et al. (2000). In all three samples, weasked whether age changes are seen during the course of adoles-cence and, if so, whether they parallel and extend the pattern of agechanges seen from age 18 on: Do N and E decline in adolescencewhile O, A, and C increase?

Study 1: Longitudinal Data

Method

Participants. Data were obtained from a panel initially consisting of870 volunteers (521 boys and 249 girls) recruited from gifted students

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identified by the Center for Talented Youth of the Johns Hopkins Univer-sity (Parker & Stumpf, 1998). All had scored above the 97th percentile ona standardized test of academic ability. At age 12, their SAT scores rangedfrom 220 to 780; means for girls were 439.6 (Verbal) and 480.4 (Math);means for boys were 437.5 (Verbal) and 533.3 (Math). They appear to becomparable to the intellectually talented sample studied by Schmidt et al.(1998). The sample was 76% White, 21% Asian, and 3% other races.Complete personality data were obtained from 598 sixth grade students,aged 10 to 13 (M � 12.0 years1). Four years later, students were recon-tacted and readministered questionnaires. Complete responses were ob-tained from 230 students, and attrition analyses showed that these partic-ipants did not differ significantly from those lost to follow-up on gender orany of the five personality factors.

Measure. Students completed the NEO–FFI (Costa & McCrae,1992a), a short version of the NEO–PI–R. The NEO–FFI provides esti-mates of the five basic personality factors: N, E, O, A, and C. Items areanswered on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from strongly disagree tostrongly agree, and scales are balanced to control effects of acquiescence.Evidence for the reliability and validity of the instrument when used byadults is summarized in the manual (Costa & McCrae, 1992a). Parker andStumpf (1998) used baseline data from the present sample to establish themeasure’s reliability and validity when used by gifted adolescents. Theyshowed a meaningful pattern of correlations with other self-report scalesand with independent parent ratings of personality, and they replicated theitem-level factor structure of the adult NEO–FFI. The NEO–FFI wasmailed to participants in 1994 and again in 1998, completed at home, andreturned by mail.

Results and Discussion

Factor invariance. The item factor structure of the NEO–FFIwas assessed at first and second administrations in the sample of230 individuals with complete data. A simple structure CFA modelwas tested with AMOS (Arbuckle & Wothke, 1999; Byrne, 2001).In this model, factors were uncorrelated, and all secondary load-ings were fixed at zero. This model was chosen because there areno published normative data on the item factor structure of theNEO–FFI and because the major question was not the absolute fitof the model but its invariance across administrations. When factorloadings were allowed to differ across administrations, the com-parative fit index (CFI) was .640, suggesting poor fit to the simplestructure model, but the root-mean-square error of approximation(RMSEA) was .045 (90% confidence interval ranged from .043 to.047), suggesting good fit. Constraining factor loadings to be equalacross administrations significantly decreased fit, ��2(55) �104.91, p � .01, but had trivial effects on fit indices, CFI � .634,RMSEA � .045 (90% confidence interval ranged from .043 to.047). These analyses provide ambiguous evidence: The hypothe-sized item structure does not appear to be invariant across admin-istrations, but it is very similar.

Congruence coefficients were also computed between varimax-rotated principal-components solutions from the two administra-tions. Coefficients were .93, .91, .89, .88, and .94 for N, E, O, A,and C, respectively. Some statisticians (e.g., Mulaik, 1972) havesuggested that coefficients must be above .90 to indicate replica-bility, but Haven and ten Berge (1977) argued that .85 is adequate.By that criterion, all factors are invariant. Because individual itemsare inherently unreliable and because the NEO–FFI is scored byunit weighting of items rather than by factor scoring weights,absolute invariance of factor loadings is probably neither realisticnor required (Horn & McArdle, 1992). It appears that NEO–FFI

scores are reasonably comparable on the two occasions in thissample.

Stability and change in individual differences. Table 1 reportsretest correlations for boys and girls, which are comparable tothose reported by others (e.g., Cole, Peeke, Dolezal, Murray, &Canzoniero, 1999). All values are statistically significant, but mostare considerably smaller than those seen in adults over periods ofup to 30 years (Costa & McCrae, 1992b; Roberts & DelVecchio,2000). These low correlations are not due to restriction of range inthis select sample, because all standard deviations (including thatof O) are comparable to college-age norms. The modest stabilitycoefficients in Table 1 indicate that there is a considerable degreeof instability of rank order of individuals across the two timepoints. In other words, it appears that personality traits—or at leastthe self-perceptions of traits measured by self-report inventories—are relatively fluid from age 12 to age 16.

That fluidity can also be seen in analyses of reliable change(Jacobson & Traux, 1991). For these analyses, observed differencescores are compared with the distribution of change scores thatwould be expected from error of measurement alone. Scores thatexceed a 95% confidence interval can be assumed to represent trueincrease or decrease on the scale. For these analyses, we used2-week retest reliability estimates for NEO–FFI scales provided byRobins et al. (2001) for college students, on the assumption thatthe values would be similar in this gifted adolescent sample. Thesevalues ranged from .86 to .90.

Table 2 reports the number of students who reliably decreased,remained stable, or increased. For each of the five traits, about40% of the sample changed over the 4-year interval—twice asmany as changed over the same interval in college (Robins et al.,2001). Increases were roughly as common as decreases, except forO, for which increases were far more common.2 These data sug-gest that O increases between age 12 and age 16.

Mean level changes. Figures 1 and 2 show mean levels for thefive domains for boys and girls, respectively. Because adolescentnorms are not available, the data are expressed as T scores basedon within-sex college-age norms. In this gifted sample, N and Escores are not high, nor are A and C scores low; instead, mostscores fall within the average range. The fact that initial N scoresfall in the low range may reflect the fact that gifted students tendto be psychologically well adjusted (Nail & Evans, 1997; Parker,1996).

Multivariate repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA)on the five scales with gender as a between-subjects factor showedsignificant effects for gender, time, and their interaction. Univar-iate tests showed that girls scored significantly higher than boys onN, E, O, and A scales. However, there were no significant longi-tudinal main effects for N, E, or A. There was, however, a strongeffect for O, F(1, 226) � 114.13, p � .001, �2 � .334, whichincreased, and a weak effect for C, F(1, 226) � 6.44, p � .05,

1 In Parker and Stumpf (1998), this figure was erroneously reportedas 13.77 years.

2 A reviewer noted that in the developmental literature, one standarderror of measurement is often taken as the criterion of meaningful change.By that more liberal standard, 14.3% of the sample decreased in O,whereas 63.0% increased.

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�2 � .027, which decreased. There was also a significant Time �Gender interaction for N, F(1, 226) � 8.79, p � .01, �2 � .037.As Figures 1 and 2 show, the interaction effect reflects a signifi-cant increase in N for girls but not boys (cf. Radloff, 1991). (Whenanalyzed separately, the effect for C does not reach significance ineither gender.)

The substantial increase in O parallels results found in cross-sectional studies across cultures (McCrae et al., 2000). Such anincrease may be particularly marked among gifted students, whoshow substantial growth in intelligence during this period.3 How-ever, a more detailed analysis of the O scale items suggests that theresults are not due simply to an increase in intellectual interests. Ofthe 12 O items, 9 showed a significant increase, with a trend ( p �.10) on 2 others. Item content indicates that these students in-creased in daydreaming, appreciation of poetry, willingness to trynew foods, sensitivity to different moods, and toleration for con-troversial speakers as well as in intellectual curiosity. Thus, thereappears to be an increased receptiveness toward many aspects ofexperience during this part of the life span.

These data provide little support for the notion that developmentin early adolescence is a simple extension of later age trends.Neither initial nor subsequent levels of N, E, A, and C in thissample could have been predicted from previous results on olderadolescents and adults.

However, the predicted increase in O was observed, withchanges over a 4-year period exceeding one half standard devia-tion for both boys and girls. Adolescents show cognitive develop-ment in this period, and it seems reasonable to suppose that thereis a general increase in O as individuals move from late childhoodto early adulthood. Adolescent rebellion and experimentation maybe due in part to this heightened awareness of the possibilities inthe world.

Study 1, however, used an unusual sample of gifted children,and it remains to be seen how generalizable these results are tomore typical adolescent populations. Study 2 provides cross-sectional data on a more representative sample.

Study 2: Cross-Sectional Replication

Method

Participants. High school teachers were recruited by Internet solicita-tion through a social science interest group to enroll respondents from

psychology courses. Although these students are probably not representa-tive of high school students in general, they presumably show a muchwider range of intellectual ability than did those in Study 1. Data werecollected from 2,001 volunteers aged 14 to 18 (M � 16.5, SD � 1.0). Ofthese, 42 were eliminated because they left more than 40 personality itemsblank (Costa & McCrae, 1992a), leaving 1,312 girls, 635 boys, and 12 withno sex indicated. (See Figure 3 for sample sizes per year.)

Measure. Participants completed the NEO–PI–R (Costa & McCrae,1992a) in groups after school. The NEO–PI–R is a 240-item inventoryassessing 30 specific traits or facets that define the five personality factorsor domains. Items are answered on a 5-point Likert scale ranging fromstrongly disagree to strongly agree, and scales are balanced to controleffects of acquiescence. The inventory has a Flesch–Kincaid reading levelof 5.71 (Schinka & Borum, 1994), and participants were instructed to leaveblank any items they did not understand or did not feel applied to them.Evidence for the reliability and validity of the instrument in college age andadult samples is summarized in the manual (Costa & McCrae, 1992a).

Results and Discussion

Assessment of the instrument. Because the NEO–PI–R has notpreviously been used in an American adolescent sample, prelim-inary analyses were conducted to examine its psychometric prop-erties. Participants were instructed to leave items blank if they didnot understand them, and we therefore examined patterns of miss-ing items in the full sample of 2,001 to assess the intelligibility ofthe items in this population. However, items might be left blanksimply because the test was not finished, and the responses of 28students who left the last 40 items blank were first discarded. Most(71%) of the remaining students responded to every item, and 210of the 240 items were answered by 99% of the students. Theremaining 30 items4 were answered by 90–98% of the sample.Fifteen of these items had been identified by De Fruyt et al. (2000)as among the most difficult for Belgian adolescents. Respondentswith more than 40 missing items (including the 28 who did notfinish the test and 14 others) were excluded from further analyses,and missing values were recoded as neutral for the 1,959 remain-ing respondents. Of these, 11 (0.6%) scored above the cut-off for

3 Supplementary analyses were conducted within the younger (11–12years) and older (12–13 years) halves of the sample. Younger childrenshowed a small but significant ( p � .01) decline in C, and both groupsshowed an increase in O ( p � .001). There were no other significantchanges.

4 These were items 4, 5, 8, 16, 20, 21, 29, 42, 47, 53, 57, 70, 87, 114,118, 119, 121, 125, 136, 147, 148, 149, 160, 165, 185, 219, 233, 234, 238,and 239, representing from 4 to 8 items per domain.

Table 1Four-Year Stability Coefficients for Boys and Girls

Domain

Retest r

Boys Girls

N .36 .30E .39 .45O .45 .34A .31 .34C .49 .63

Note. Ns � 132 boys, 98 girls. All correlations are significant at p � .001.N � Neuroticism; E � Extraversion; O � Openness to Experience; A �Agreeableness; C � Conscientiousness.

Table 2Reliable Change in Personality From Age 12 to Age 16

NEO–FFI Domain % decreased% no reliable

change % increased

Neuroticism 20.0 56.5 23.5Extraversion 18.3 66.0 15.7Openness to Experience 5.2 51.7 43.5Agreeableness 20.4 62.2 17.4Conscientiousness 22.6 62.6 14.8

Note. N � 230. NEO–FFI � NEO Five Factor Inventory.

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possible naysaying, and 51 (2.6%) scored above the cut-off forpossible acquiescent responding (Costa & McCrae, 1992a). Thesefigures suggest that students are slightly more likely to showacquiescent responding than are adult volunteers, but acquiescencedid not appear to be a serious problem, and all cases were retained.

Twelve cases could not be used in the major analyses because theydid not report age or gender.

Alpha reliabilities for the five domains were .90, .88, .88, .87,and .90 for N, E, O, A, and C, respectively—values almostidentical to those seen in adults.

Figure 1. Mean levels of NEO Five-Factor Inventory domain T scores (using within-sex college age norms)for boys at two times. Significant effects are reported from paired t tests. N � Neuroticism; E � Extraversion;O � Openness to Experience; A � Agreeableness; C � Conscientiousness.

Figure 2. Mean levels of NEO Five-Factor Inventory domain T scores (using within-sex college age norms)for girls at two times. Significant effects are reported from paired t tests. N � Neuroticism; E � Extraversion;O � Openness to Experience; A � Agreeableness; C � Conscientiousness.

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To confirm that the same factor structure was found cross-sectionally and, thus, that the age groups could be meaningfullycompared, we factored data for each age group separately, com-bining 14- and 15-year olds to obtain a sufficiently large sample.CFA analyses were designed to test replicability of the Americanadult normative structure (Costa & McCrae, 1992a) as well asinvariance across age groups. In these analyses, factors wereorthogonal, all secondary loadings were fixed at the value in theadult structure, and primary loadings were estimated (cf. McCraeet al., 1996, Model 2d, complete). When factor loadings wereallowed to differ across age groups, CFI was .852 and RMSEAwas .034 (90% confidence interval ranged from .033 to .035).When factor loadings were constrained to be equal, CFI was .851and RMSEA was .033 (90% confidence interval ranged from .032to .034). A comparison of the two models gave ��2(75) � 94.96,ns.5 These results suggest that the factors were invariant across agegroups and replicated the adult structure.

These conclusions were confirmed by an examination of con-gruence coefficients. In the full sample, both a scree test and aparallel analysis of eigenvalues from a principal-components anal-ysis of the 30 facet scales showed that five factors should beretained, and, after varimax rotation, these factors clearly repli-cated the structure seen in adults (Costa & McCrae, 1992a).Coefficients of factor congruence were .97, .98, .95, .97, and .98for N, E, O, A, and C factors, respectively.6 Coefficients ofcongruence with the adult structure are presented in the top panelof Table 3 for age groups separately; all are above .90 and showthat the structure is consistently replicated.

Gender and age differences. ANOVAs were conducted on theNEO–PI–R domains and facets using gender and age in years asclassifying factors. Significant main effects for gender were found

for N, F(1, 1937) � 52.54; E, F(1, 1937) � 21.75; O, F(1,1937) � 22.52; and A, F(1, 1937) � 31.33, all ps � .001, withgirls scoring higher than boys on all four domains. These resultsparallel those found in adult samples (Costa, Terracciano, & Mc-Crae, 2001) and bolster confidence that the NEO–PI–R retains itspsychometric properties in high school age adolescents. There wasalso a Gender � Age interaction for O, F(4, 1937) � 3.16, p �.05. Of primary interest are the main effects for age; these werenonsignificant for N, E, A, and C but did show a significantcross-sectional increase in O, F(4, 1937) � 9.05, p � .001, �2 �.018. This is shown in Figure 3, where T scores based on within-sex college-age norms are reported. The figure shows that bothboys and girls increase modestly over the age range covered; thesignificant interaction is due to the fact that there is a morepronounced increase in boys than in girls. Regression analyseswithin sex showed significant linear and quadratic terms, the latterattributable to the small decline from age 17 to age 18.

Analysis of the 30 individual facets showed significant ( p �.05) effects for 11 of them; there were cross-sectional declines inE2: Gregariousness and E5: Excitement Seeking, and increases inN2: Angry Hostility, N5: Impulsiveness, and C1: Competence. A2:Straightforwardness and A5: Modesty showed curvilinear trends,increasing and then decreasing. But all these effects were quite

5 In both Study 2 and Study 3, when a simple structure model wasanalyzed in which all secondary loadings were set to zero, the uncon-strained model was again not significantly different from the constrainedmodel, although the overall fit was poorer.

6 Complete factor loading matrices for Studies 2 and 3 are available fromRobert R. McCrae.

Figure 3. Mean Openness T scores (using within-sex college age norms) for boys and girls (ns � 33 and 65at age 14, respectively; 80 and 140 at age 15; 148 and 371 at age 16; 281 and 609 at age 17; and 93 and 127at age 18).

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small, accounting for less than 1% of the variance in facet scores.Somewhat larger effects, accounting for about 2% of the variance,were found for O2: Aesthetics, O3: Feelings, O5: Ideas, and O6:Values, all of which increased. Significant Gender � Age inter-action terms were found for O2 and O3, mirroring the pattern seenin Figure 3.

It is also of interest to compare high school students’ scores withcollege students’. One can do this by plotting boys’ and girls’ dataon college age norms. Figure 4 shows such a plot and suggests thathigh school adolescents differ little from college age respondentson N, E, and O but are somewhat lower on A and C. At the levelof facet scores, there are some suggestions of age differences. Highschool girls score higher in O1: Fantasy than college women; highschool boys are higher than college men in N3: Depression. It isnot clear how meaningful these small effects are. For example,some research has shown no difference in depression scores be-tween high school and college men (Gladstone & Koenig, 1994).

Results for A and C require comment. Figure 4 shows thatbetween ages 14 and 18, A and C domains are relatively low, andcross-sectional ANOVAs had shown no evidence of increase dur-ing this period. Yet college students aged 18–21 score higher thando high school students on these two factors. It appears that thereis a discontinuity in development, a sudden jump in socializationat age 18. However, it should be noted that college-age norms arebased on respondents across the range from 18 to 21, and it ispossible that there are increases in A and C during that time period,leading to higher means than would be seen in 18-year olds alone.Those increases are in fact precisely what Robins et al. (2001)reported. Increases in O begin in early adolescence; increases in Aand C apparently begin in late adolescence.

A comparison of the 1998 data in Figures 1 and 2 with Figure 4allows an estimate of personality differences between gifted andnonselected students at about age 16. Differences in T scoressuggest that gifted students are about one half standard deviationlower than nonselected students in N and one half standard devi-ation higher in O. These results are consistent with other studies

that show gifted students to be better adjusted (Parker, 1996) andhigher in intuition (Mills, 1998), a scale related to O (McCrae &Costa, 1989). The higher levels of O are consistent with thegeneral intellectual acceleration seen in gifted students: At age 12,they have already reached the level of O characteristic of nonse-lected 15-year-olds.

It is noteworthy that Study 2 offers no support for the hypothesisthat N increases in girls over this time interval. If the effect seenin Study 1 is generalizable beyond gifted populations, it may beconfined to the earliest part of adolescence, before age 14. Amongthe high school students in Study 2, there is a clear genderdifference—about one half standard deviation—in N, but it ap-pears already to be established by age 14. Study 3 provides anotheropportunity to replicate the Study 1 finding, in a Belgian samplewith a wider age range.

Study 3: Cross-Cultural Replication

Method

Participants. Ghent University undergraduate psychology studentswere asked to recruit 1 boy and 1 girl as respondents for this study; therespondents ranged in age from 12 to 18 (M � 14.5, SD � 1.6). Partici-pants (355 boys, 434 girls) were recruited from across the Flemish part ofBelgium and represented a wide range of socioeconomic groups.

Measure. Adolescents completed the Flemish version of the NEO–PI–R (Hoekstra, Ormel, & De Fruyt, 1996), a well-validated translation ofthe original English instrument. A subsample (n � 469) of the presentrespondents was used in a validation of the instrument in this age range (DeFruyt et al., 2000). Data showed that the instrument was reliable, withcoefficient alphas ranging from .86 to .92 for the five domain scores. Scalesshowed predictable correlations with an indigenous Flemish instrument,the Hierarchical Personality Inventory for Children, and factor analysisreplicated the American factor structure (Mervielde & De Fruyt, 1999).Gender differences resembled those seen in Study 2 and elsewhere (Costaet al., 2001). Respondents were told to omit any item they did notunderstand, and scales with missing items were not scored.

Results and Discussion

To assess age invariance of the factor structure, we conductedCFA analyses for three age groups (ages 12–14, 15, and 16–18).As in Study 2, factors were orthogonal, all secondary loadingswere fixed at the value in the adult structure, and primary loadingswere estimated. When factor loadings were allowed to differacross age groups, CFI was .823 and RMSEA was .042 (90%confidence interval ranged from .040 to .044). When factor load-ings were constrained to be equal, CFI was .822 and RMSEA was.041 (90% confidence interval ranged from .039 to .044). Acomparison of the two models gave ��2(50) � 55.71, ns. Theseresults suggest that the factors are invariant across age groups andreplicate the adult structure.

Coefficients of congruence with the adult structure are presentedin the bottom panel of Table 3 for the three age groups separately;all are above .90 and again show that the structure is consistentlyreplicated.

Pearson correlations between age in years and the NEO–PI–Rdomains and facets were calculated separately for boys and girls.Small but significant correlations with O were found for both (rs �.15 and .14, respectively; ns � 320 and 387, respectively; p � .01),

Table 3Congruence Coefficients Comparing Varimax-Rotated FactorStructure in Subgroups With the Adult Normative Structure

Age n

Factor

N E O A C

American high school students

14–15 320 .97 .97 .92 .95 .9616 521 .96 .96 .93 .96 .9817 896 .97 .98 .95 .97 .9818 222 .93 .96 .92 .97 .97

Belgian students

12–14 283 .96 .97 .90 .95 .9515 143 .97 .91 .92 .96 .9516–18 188 .96 .94 .93 .95 .96

Note. Only 614 Belgian students had complete data on all Revised NEOPersonality Inventory facets. N � Neuroticism; E � Extraversion; O �Openness to Experience; A � Agreeableness; C � Conscientiousness.

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and a significant correlation for N was found for girls (r � .13, n �388, p � .01) but not for boys (r � �.01, n � 314, ns.).Regression analyses with linear and quadratic terms showed thatall these effects were linear across this age span. None of the otherdomains showed significant correlations with age. These resultsreplicate the findings in Study 1, in which a small increase in Nwas seen only for girls, and in Studies 1 and 2, in which age-related increases in O were seen for both boys and girls. None ofthe studies show significant changes in E, A, or C during earlyadolescence.

Four of the facets of N showed increases among girls (rs � .10to .15), who also showed decreases in A1: Trust, A4: Compliance,and A6: Tendermindedness (rs � �.11 to �.13). Boys alsoshowed a decrease in Compliance (r � �.17). It is noteworthy thatnone of the effects for facets of E, A, or C in Study 2’s Americansample was replicated in the Flemish sample. Effects for O,however, were: In addition to the overall O domain, girls showedsignificant increases in Openness to Aesthetics, Feelings, andValues (rs � .11 to .23), whereas boys showed increases inOpenness to Fantasy, Feelings, and Values (rs � .13 to .20).

College-age norms are not available for the Flemish NEO–PI–R.When Flemish adolescents are compared with American college-age norms (see McCrae, 2001, for a justification of such cross-cultural use of norms), domain T scores range from 44 for C (inboth boys and girls) to 52. Like the American adolescents inStudy 2, Belgian adolescents appear to be lower in C but otherwisevery similar to American college students in mean levels.

General Discussion

Results from three samples of adolescents converged on patternsof trait development: Between age 12 and age 18, girls increasedin N, and both boys and girls increased in O. There were noconsistent changes in E, A, or C or their facets. Longitudinalresults effectively rule out cohort effects, whereas cross-sectionalresults rule out practice effects (Costa & McCrae, 1982). Studies 1and 2 thus suggest that these are true developmental patterns;Study 3, conducted in Belgium, suggests that they may be gener-alizable, at least across Western cultures. These findings are con-sistent with data from a different instrument, the HSPQ. Cattell etal. (1984) reported that across the 14 scales of the HSPQ, “agetrends are generally slight” (p. 79) except for B, which is ameasure of verbal intelligence. There is, however, a small butconsistent increase in I, Sensitivity, a variable related chiefly to O(Conn & Rieke, 1994).

The mean level stability of E, A, and C and the generally modestchanges in N and O seem paradoxical in an era noted for its “stormand stress” (Arnett, 1999). One might have anticipated greatervolatility in personality trait levels—and, in fact, this was found atthe level of individuals. Retest correlations in Table 1 are quitemodest in comparison with adult values (cf. Roberts & DelVec-chio, 2000) and show that individuals undergo substantial changein rank order. Some children begin adolescence as introverts andemerge as extraverts; others show the opposite path. Overall,however, mean levels of E neither increase nor decrease fromage 12 to age 18, and the same may be said for A and C.Replication of these findings in more representative sampleswould be worthwhile, as would studies using parent or teacher

ratings in place of self-reports. Among adults, however, observerratings typically confirm developmental patterns found in self-report data (e.g., Costa & McCrae, 1992a).

The small increase in N seen for girls during early adolescenceis consistent with reports on depression (Radloff, 1991) and self-esteem (Robins et al., 2002) and mirrors earlier British findingsusing the JEPI (Eysenck, 1963). Such an effect might be due tohormonal changes in that period, or it might reflect some aspect ofthe sex roles imposed by society. In either case, it marks thebeginning of a lifelong trend: Women consistently score higherthan men on measures of negative affect (Costa et al., 2001).

Both boys and girls show increases in O during adolescence,which apparently continue into college age (Gray et al., 2001;Robins et al., 2001). An examination of the item content of theNEO–FFI O scale and the O facets of the NEO–PI–R shows thatthis increase is not limited to intellectual interests, which mightmerely reflect increased cognitive ability. Instead, adolescentsappear to increase in their appreciation of aesthetics, their toler-ance of alternative value systems, and their sensitivity to moodsand emotions. Together, these changes amount to an increase in O.

These findings are of particular interest when one recalls that Ois the dimension of personality most closely related to moralreasoning (Lonky, Kaus, & Roodin, 1984), ego development (Ein-stein & Lanning, 1998; McCrae & Costa, 1980), and identityexploration (Clancy & Dollinger, 1993; Tesch & Cameron, 1987).During the period of adolescence, growth in the cognitive capacityto understand the world is apparently coupled with an increasinginterest in many aspects of experience, and the result is greatercomplexity and differentiation in moral judgment and a betterintegrated self.7

Although that general pattern can be discerned from availabledata, the exact course and causal pathways among intellectualgrowth, increasing openness, and ego development would requiredetailed longitudinal studies. Individual differences in intelligenceare relatively fixed during this period (see Moffitt, Caspi, Hark-ness, & Silva, 1993), but O is more fluid, and changes in O mightbe the consequence as well as the cause of changing ego level.Paths of development might be different for intellectually giftedand nongifted adolescents. Fortunately, results of the present studyshow that adult measures of O and other trait factors can bemeaningfully used to assess personality in early adolescents. Thesenew tools should encourage intensified research on adolescentpersonality development.

The present study extends knowledge of mean levels of person-ality traits back from college age to early adolescence. The majortask remaining for a complete description of trait developmentconcerns the period before age 12. Given the proven value ofself-report methods in early adolescents, it seems worthwhile toexamine the utility of the NEO–PI–R or NEO–FFI in even youngerchildren (Markey, Markey, Tinsley & Ericksen, 2002). But there isalready some evidence that the validity of self-reports decreaseswith younger age (Van Aken, van Lieshout, & Haselager, 1996),and at some point it would certainly be necessary to substitute

7 Dollinger and LaMartina (1998) provided evidence that O has an effecton moral reasoning net of intelligence, as measured by grade point averageand vocabulary.

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parent or observer ratings for young children’s self-reports. Cali-bration studies, in which both children’s self-reports and adults’ratings are gathered on the same individuals, would be needed tointerpret adult ratings of younger children in the metric of adultpersonality traits.

Exactly how far back the development of these personalityfactors could be meaningfully extended is currently unknown. Theconstructs represented by the adult FFM can be applied to veryyoung children, as studies of free parental descriptions show(Kohnstamm et al., 1998). But terms related to C in particular wererarely used in that study to describe 3-year olds, and it is not clearhow or whether such traits as achievement striving or dutifulnesscould be manifested in infants. Linking adult personality traitdimensions to infant and child temperament (Halverson, Kohm-stamm, & Martin, 1994; Rothbart et al., 2000) remains a majorchallenge for developmental psychology.

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Received August 20, 2001Revision received May 15, 2002

Accepted May 20, 2002 �

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