Unfolding personalities: The importance of studying ontogeny


  • Dedicated by F.T. to W. Wickler on the occasion of his 80th birthday.

  • Fritz Trillmich and Ton G.G. Groothuis contributed equally to this study.


We aim to stimulate an ontogenetic approach to personalities. We explain the importance of studying development for understanding proximate and ultimate aspects of personality and critically discuss, partly by perhaps provocative statements, our current lack of knowledge and potential approaches to the study of personality development. We first clarify some terminology and argue for a difference between behavioral profiles (BP; at the descriptive level) and personality (at the explanatory level). We then focus on the issue of temporal stability of personality, arguing that based on evolutionary theory, neurophysiological knowledge, and recent findings, personality is probably less stable than often thought. Next we consider the potential influence of genes, discussing gene by environment correlations and interactions and argue that developmental changes in the regulation of DNA expression are probably more relevant than individual differences in DNA sequence. We end by suggesting perspectives for future research. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Dev Psychobiol 53:641–655, 2011.