How has your personality changed

The job changes us more than the birth of our own child

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ZEIT ONLINE: So if everyone went abroad for a while, our society would become more open.

Woodpecker: Yes, experience abroad can also make people who tend to be closed-minded more open. That's why I like the #FreeInterrail initiative, which is committed to giving young people in the EU an Interrail ticket for their 18th birthday so that they can discover Europe. It would be ideal if all 18-year-olds had this opportunity, not just those who apply because they are already open to new experiences.

ZEIT ONLINE: Which life events still change the personality?

Woodpecker: Amazingly, we found that the job changes personality more than family events. Entry into the job, for example, has a major influence. That has to do with the social expectations we are exposed to there. We adapt our personality to the new role in order to be able to cope with it. We are becoming more conscientious overall.

ZEIT ONLINE: So we're bending over for our job?

Woodpecker: Well The question is: do we develop further or do we betray our own selves? In a study, we looked at whether you need a certain personality to be successful in your job. We noticed that it depends very much on the specific job (Psychological Science: Denissen et al., 2018). People whose personality profile better matches the requirements of the job earn significantly more. As a salesperson, I have to be open-minded, and as an accountant, too much openness can possibly even have negative effects.

ZEIT ONLINE: And what about family events like the birth of a child?

Woodpecker: You are addressing something amazing. Many parents say that having a child changed their lives fundamentally. However, our results show that their personality does not mature much as a result. This can be because a baby does not convey exactly what behavior it expects as specifically as a boss. Perhaps it is simply a phase of life in which parents do not have the leisure to optimize their personality. You yourself are not the focus of attention.

ZEIT ONLINE: Do men and women differ in their personality?

Woodpecker: Men are on average more emotionally stable. Women are more prone to anxiety and worry. But this is not the case with children. The large gender difference does not develop until the onset of puberty. It is therefore quite possible that social role models and gender stereotypes also play a role.

ZEIT ONLINE: What clich├ęs do you mean exactly?

Woodpecker: Girls are often less trusted than boys. If others don't trust them, they don't trust themselves that much either. This can make them more worried and fearful. Incidentally, properties that also increase the risk of depression. We know that women are affected much more often than men. That is why you have to think about whether there are social levers so that girls can develop into just as emotionally stable people as boys.

ZEIT ONLINE: And what do you think of the saying "What doesn't kill you makes you tougher"?

Woodpecker: Not that much. People who have experienced something really bad - serious illness or the death of a loved one - often do not become stronger as a result, but on average more vulnerable, worried and fearful. Your general well-being drops. People who are doing well and who are emotionally stable find it much easier to face new challenges.

ZEIT ONLINE: That sounds grim to those who are unlucky in life.

Woodpecker: One can recover from negative, very drastic events. Even after a great misfortune, people can feel happy again, but sometimes this takes time. Many report that they have learned something from the experience, have developed further and can accept the event for themselves. We see this as successful management. Ultimately, people who have experienced fewer setbacks in their lives so far, but who have more easily managed to adapt their personality to their life situation. That's why I get annoyed every time it is said that one has to first go through a deep valley in order to be able to develop properly and to become mature.