Increasing numbers of empirical studies provide compelling evidence that personality traits change across the entire lifespan. What initiates this continuing personality development and how does this development proceed? In this paper, we compare six theoretical perspectives that offer testable predictions about why personality develops the way it does and identify limitations and potentials of these perspectives by reviewing how they hold up against the empirical evidence. While all of these perspectives have received some empirical support, there is only little direct evidence for propositions put forward by the five-factor theory of personality and the theory of genotype → environment effects. In contrast, the neo-socioanalytic theory appears to offer a comprehensive framework that fits the empirical findings and allows the integration of other, more specialized, perspectives that focus on specific aspects of personality development like the role of time, systematic differences between categories of social roles or the active partake of the person himself or herself. We draw conclusions on the likely driving factors for adult personality development and identify avenues for future research.
Specht, J., Bleidorn, W., Denissen, J. J. A., Hennecke, M., Hutteman, R., Kandler, C., Luhmann, M., Orth, U., Reitz, A., & Zimmerman, J. (2014). What drives adult personality development? A comparison of theoretical perspectives and empirical evidence. European Journal of Personality, 28(3), 216-230. https://doi.org/10.1002/per.1966