Transactions between life events and personality traits across the adult lifespan

Jaap J. A. Denissen*, Maike Luhmann, Joanne M. Chung, Wiebke Bleidorn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Life events refer to status changes in important demographic variables, such as employment or marital status. Life events offer an interesting opportunity for studying transactions between environmental changes and personality traits, which are of relevance for diverging theories about the role of environmental factors in life span personality development. Yet in spite of the potential importance of life events for personality development, nuanced and sufficiently powered longitudinal designs with frequent assessments of life events and personality traits are lacking. The current study aims to address this gap by examining the associations between different life events and personality trait change, using data from a large, nationally representative, and prospective longitudinal study. Results demonstrated a number of selection effects, indicating that personality traits affect the likelihood that individuals experience certain types of life events. Less frequently, results indicated average effects of life events on personality trait development, both in anticipation of a life event change as well as resulting from it. However, some of these event-related changes ran counter to the notion that personality maturity increases as a result of adopting mature social roles, like parenthood or paid employment. Furthermore, we found significant variation around average event-related trajectories, suggesting that individuals differ in their reactions to life events. Theoretical implications and recommendations for future research are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)612-633
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • adult development
  • Big Five personality traits
  • life events
  • longitudinal study
  • personality development


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