Personality psychologists describe openness as one of five major personality traits. Studies suggest that the other four traits (agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and extraversion) operate independently of a person's cognitive abilities. But openness – being flexible and creative, embracing new ideas and taking on challenging intellectual or cultural pursuits – does appear to be correlated with cognitive abilities.
The new study, published in the journal Psychology and Aging, gave older adults a series of pattern-recognition and problem-solving tasks and puzzles that they could perform at home. Participants ranged in age from 60 to 94 years and worked at their own pace, getting more challenging tasks each week when they came to the lab to return materials.
"We wanted participants to feel challenged but not overwhelmed," said University of Illinois educational psychology and Beckman Institute professor Elizabeth Stine-Morrow, who led the research. "While we didn't explicitly test this, we suspect that the training program – adapted in difficulty in sync with skill development – was important in leading to increased openness. Growing confidence in their reasoning abilities possibly enabled greater enjoyment of intellectually challenging and creative endeavors."
This study challenges the assumption that personality doesn't change once one reaches adulthood, said Illinois psychology professor and study co-author Brent Roberts.
"There are certain models that say, functionally, personality doesn't change after age 20 or age 30. You reach adulthood and pretty much you are who you are," he said. "There's some truth to that at some level. But here you have a study that has successfully changed personality traits in a set of individuals who are (on average) 75. And that opens up a whole bunch of wonderful issues to think about."
Study authors also include psychology professor Joshua Jackson, of Washington University in St. Louis; U. of I. postdoctoral researcher Patrick Hill; and graduate student Brennan Payne.
Editor's notes: To reach Brent Roberts, call 217-333-2644; email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To reach Elizabeth Stine-Morrow, call 217-244-2167; email email@example.com.
The paper, "Can An Old Dog Learn (and Want to Experience) New Tricks: Cognitive Training Increases Openness to Experience in Older Adults," is available from the U. of I. News Bureau.
Diana Yates | EurekAlert!
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