The cumulative continuity principle of personality proposes a steady increase in Big Five trait stability across the adult life span. However, empirical support for this theoretical notion is still limited. Furthermore, the classical approach of using retest correlations might not be fully capable of illustrating the full picture of personality stability (Hertzog & Nesselroade, 1987). Recent methodological and theoretical advancements suggest that individual differences in personality might reflect both absolutely stable trait-like factors and partly stable changing factors (Anusic & Schimmack, 2016). Here, we aimed to compare how retest correlations versus the stable and changing factors of the Big Five personality traits change across the adult life span. Using 3 waves of personality data from Germany (N = 9,013) and another 3 waves from Australia (N = 6,012), we estimated latent retest and trait-state-occasion models in a local structural-equation-modeling framework and tested for moderating effects of age on model-specific stability components. There were 3 main findings. First, the retest correlations indicated that inverted U-shaped patterns manifested only in part. Second, for all Big Five characteristics (except conscientiousness in Study 1), the stable trait variance was larger than the occasion-specific variance, indicating that reliable individual differences in personality are mostly due to the effects of stable factors. Third, moderating effects of age differed across the Big Five and across the 2 studies and generally showed only limited support for the cumulative continuity principle. We discuss possible theoretical and methodological implications.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology: Personality Processes and Individual Differences
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)666-680
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 04.2019

    Research areas

  • personality traits, GSOEP and HILDA, trait-state-occasion model, local structural equation modeling, life span stability

ID: 918015