General Question

GloPro's avatar

Can you change core characteristics?

Asked by GloPro (8306points) February 9th, 2014 from iPhone

They say a leopard doesn’t change it’s spots. Do you think that is true?

I’m talking about core traits: integrity, honesty, work ethic, loyalty, confidence, ego, compassion, activity level…and so on. Things that seem inherent and develop because of your upbringing and character development.

If you think it is possible change, really change, how? Do you just have to fake the person you want to be until it feels natural?

I don’t know that I think people can change deep rooted traits. Sure, some things, but not all.

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25 Answers

keobooks's avatar

I don’t know if I’d count activity level as a core trait. That can be changed just due to simple physical health or age.Everything else you listed is core IMO. I think it’s hard to change this stuff by act of will.

GloPro's avatar

@keobooks, Yeah, I wasn’t sure how to word that trait, but I do think it is a core trait.
What I meant is being inherently lazy or active. Some people won’t have any interest in doing chores, or walking farther distances in a parking lot. Some people can’t sit still and will walk all the way to the store to begin with. That kind of “activity level” isn’t something you can just change. I think it’s a part of who you are.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

I think all are fluid.

keobooks's avatar

I guess I disagree from personal experience. I was fidgety and extremely active when I had hyperthyroid (high thyroid) I was a ball of energy. I would walk for miles every day. I’d walk instead of taking the bus when I lived in San Francisco. I would work full time and still manage to perform in a theater troupe 3 days a week and go clubbing at night every weekend.

Now that I have a very low thyroid, my entire life has changed and I am “lazy”. I sleep about 12 hours a day. I walk very slowly and I don’t like to go far. I don’t like to go out much and I have zero “extracurricular” activities. It’s not because I’m exhausted or fatigued, I just operate at a much slower pace than I did. Even with my thyroid levels under control, I’m just kind of naturally a turtle now.

I am like a totally different person than I was 10 years ago, if you go by activity level. People have been posting videos and pictures of me in my prime and people who didn’t know me back then can’t believe that I’m the same person.

flo's avatar

Integrity, honesty are the 2 things that are not like the others.
work ethic, loyalty, confidence, ego, compassion, activity level, they are all neither here nor there. They can be used for bad.
In fact some people think they are being honest when they are just being cruel for fun.

hearkat's avatar

I agree that we need to narrow down what we consider core characteristics for the purposes of this conversation. To me, many of what you listed are learned behaviors. I do know people who had addictions and behaved in unscrupulous ways, but were able to turn their lives around and develop integrity, for example.

Coloma's avatar

Core traits based on personality style, are usually fixed traits, innate of particular brain stack functions, effecting individual perceptions and world interpretations
Such as optimism vs. pessimism serious vs. carefree, bold/ extroverted or more passive/ introvert. How we show up is mostly innate.

GloPro's avatar

Ok, then based on @Coloma, and her response, can you change?
@hearkat, I agree they are learned behaviors. I believe personality is a combo of nature/nurture, too. But if being honest is driven into you for the first 18 years of your life, is it possible to learn to lie (and lie well) without feeling completely uncomfortable and unnatural? If you are raised to be quiet and a wallflower, how hard is it to become outspoken or bold?

hearkat's avatar

@Coloma – I was the most cynical, pessimistic, self-loathing person in the world for the first 30 years of my life. Once I made the effort to overcome the negativity of having been sexually abused and emotionally neglected (at best) as a child, I taught myself to seek the silver lining and the lessons to be learned in every situation, I taught myself to practice gratitude and to appreciate the good things in my life. I don’t self-identify as an optimist now, but rather as a “happy, hopeful realist”.

I do believe that where we fall on the introvert – extrovert scale is a core trait. However, we can still learn behaviors that help us adapt within our innate characteristics. Because of my childhood, I was horridly self-conscious and almost paralyzingly shy. As I gained more self-acceptance and self-confidence, I have developed a better social presence. I am still very awkward, but I own it and don’t care much what other people think. So now rather than shy, I self-identify as a friendly introvert.

keobooks's avatar

This question is almost a spiritual one to me. What really IS at the core? The story of Phineas Gage has always fascinated me. He got one horrific head injury and suddenly was a different person. How much more of our personality and being just chemical reactions and hormones dancing around in our body? If we were totally removed from our body, would we really have any personality at all?

Before antidepressants came into being, how cheerful or melancholy you were were likely seen as core personality traits. Now you can change all that by swallowing a pill. It’s amazing.

So anyway, what really is at the core? Who knows what stuff in the future will come and blow our minds away and change aspects of people’s personality that we thought were fixed. What if there was an empathy pill? An ethics pill?

GloPro's avatar

The “big 5” personality traits are Openness, Neuroticism, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, and Extraversion.
I’m good with restating my question to just these. Can you change those, and if so, how, and how easy/effective would it be?

Coloma's avatar

@hearkat Yes, I am not disputing personal growth work, but that is more on a psychological level opposed to innate temperament and “core” personality style. Sure we can and do modify but it is rare that innate traits will change long term. Base temperament does not change.

hearkat's avatar

@GloPro – Where did those “big 5” come from, and do you have a link for the definitions? Because extroversion is again the only one on that list that I’d consider innate based on my own definitions of those words.

@Coloma – I guess what I am wanting is more discreet terms to use for ‘innate temperament’ and ‘core’ personality style. For example: “perky” I could never be perky; I am a low-key, laid-back personality – what are the official terms for those temperaments?

@keobooks – I was melancholy and it runs in my family, but various classes of antidepressants didn’t change that for me. Consciously modifying my thought process and focus is what changed me.

Coloma's avatar

@hearkat Now you’ve got it, yes. Not perky will not change. haha

hearkat's avatar

@GloPro – Thanks for the link. “Openness” is an odd term for “imagination and insight”; and “Neuroticism” and the described behaviors are learned, in my opinion – look at those motherless rhesus monkeys from Psych 101, for example (can’t remember the name of the scientist at the moment). The others are still borderline to me.

Paradox25's avatar

Yeah I think people can change some core behaviors, depending on circumstances and the person in question that is. I’ve changed in some core ways with age, experience and hardships. I used to be naturally trusting of other people to a very high degree, but now I’m the dead opposite of that. I feel I’m still ‘me’ in a general sense, but my likes and dislikes are different now.

Coloma's avatar


Taste is the most likely to change as we age, mature, but not base temperament. Change in trust is conditioning not base temperament.

Paradox25's avatar

What do you mean by base temperament?

GloPro's avatar

Going back to nature/nurture, do we not learn our core traits, at least to some degree? Or maybe reinforced would be a better way of thinking.
Agreeableness – does not mean to always concede, and be literally agreeable, but to have an agreeable personality is to be charismatic. I don’t know that one could “learn” to be charismatic. It is interesting that they mention “pro social” behaviors with a core personality trait. To me, that suggests they are not inherent, but learned. If learned, it should be possible to change. So why, if you are innately not affectionate, is it so hard to become affectionate? Or kind? Or honest?

Smitha's avatar

Most of our core traits tend to remain relatively stable across the lifespan. It’s true that we might get a little grumpier or hardened in our ways by the outside situations and experiences in life, but the behavior we display at a young age often continue throughout adulthood, unless we make a conscious effort to change for the better.

whitenoise's avatar

Same people will find it hard to change, as long as they are in the same environment. (Relationship, work, country, etc.)

People can change enormously when put in different environments. We are neither fully internally defined, nor fully externally driven.

Mc Gregor proposed a famous theory on management that distinguishes between X and Y people. Y was the belief that people are internally driven to perform; the other (X) was the one that people are lazy. These types of views on people made the need for people to be treated differently. Both these views, over time seemed to be proven right, but in fact reflected that people behave differently when treated differently, with different expectations.

The behavior of people changes dependent on their situation and is more a reflection of how they are treated by their management than the other way around. Asigning fixed personality traits to people is a risky business and the base for a lot of misery.

Meyers Briggs, for example, is based on a lot of nonscientific nonsense and is (ab)used to justify management decisions with huge impacts on people’s life. An other example is that people used to think they knew for certain that some peoples or races were inheritentle lazy, unreliable or inferior.

Haleth's avatar

A lot of the qualities we consider deeply a part of ourselves can be changed through learning and life experience. Many people learn things like empathy, thoughtfulness, or fortitude through challenging life experiences. We adapt to adversity.

For example, I overcame lifelong shyness by having a job that involved talking to people all the fucking time. Not just, like, ringing people up on a register and saying the same stock phrases all day, but actively starting conversations, listening, and really talking to people. You know when Neo discovered bullet time in the Matrix? That’s what this is like. The right thing to say in any given situation just… comes to me, and I can anticipate how saying one thing or another will affect the other person or change the course of the conversation. This must be everyday life for most people, but compared to my earlier social awkwardness it’s like having superpowers. I can banter with strangers, reassure someone who’s angry, direct groups, and command people’s attention if I want. Holy crap!

It’s equally possible to let yourself stagnate and backslide into easier, lazier behaviors. If you sit around on the couch all day, your muscles lose their strength; it’s the same with your personality.

NanoNano's avatar


I think that the bulk of human behavior is transitory and situational.

A good book I would recommend on really changing yourself would be: “Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself” by Dr. Joe Dispenza

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