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Childhood Personality Foreshadows Adult Personality and Life Outcomes Two Decades Later


  • This work was supported in part by grants from the Colgate Research Council and from the National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship program. The results were based on data collected as part of the Project Competence longitudinal study, which has been supported through grants to Ann Masten, Auke Tellegen, and Norman Garmezy from the National Institute of Mental Health (MH33222), the William T. Grant Foundation, the National Science Foundation (SBR-9729111), and the University of Minnesota. We thank Glenn Roisman for his help in creating the measures of competence at age 30.

concerning this article should be addressed to Rebecca L. Shiner, Department of Psychology, Colgate University, 13 Oak Drive, Hamilton, NY 13346. Electronic mail may be sent to


Abstract In a normative sample of 205 children ages 8–12, tracked into adulthood, we examined the predictive links between four childhood personality traits—Mastery Motivation, Academic Conscientiousness, Surgency, and Agreeableness—and adult personality and adaptation 20 years later. Personality demonstrated modest to moderate continuity over those two decades and showed significant predictive validity for success in adult life, including academic attainment, work competence, rule-abiding versus antisocial conduct, and romantic and friend relationships. Results indicated that personality shows coherent patterns over time in terms of both stability and linkages to adaptive behavior. Explicating the processes underlying such patterns is the next frontier for a truly developmental science of personality.

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