Plaster or Plasticity: Are Adult Work Experiences Associated with Personality Change in Women?


  • This article is based in part on a dissertation submitted by Brent W. Roberts to the Department of Psychology, University of California at Berkeley, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the doctoral degree. Portions of this article were presented at the 1995 annual Nags Head Conference on Personality and Social Behavior. Highland Beach, FL. This research was supported by Grant MH-43948 from the National Institute of Mental Health. I am indebted to Ravenna Helson for her guidance, support, and patience on this project. I am grateful to Gail Agronick for her coding work and would like to thank Lewis Goldberg. Wendy Friend, Chris Chapman, and the participants of the Nags Head Conference for their advice, especially Lou Penner. Steve West, and Paul Wink.

concerning this article should he addressed to Brent W. Roberts, Department of Psychology, University of Tulsa, Tulsa, OK 74104-3189. E-mail:


ABSTRACT The present study tested whether work experiences were associated with personality change across two periods of adulthood (age 21 to 27 and 27 to 43) in a longitudinal sample of women (N= 81). Two competing theoretical perspectives were tested: the plaster theory, which claims that personality does not change after age 30, and the plasticity theory, which claims that personality can change at any time in adulthood. Evidence was found for both correlational consistency of personality in adulthood and for the socialization effect of work on personality change. Work experiences were not associated with personality change in young adulthood but were associated with changes between young adulthood and midlife. In the period from age 27 to age 43 women who worked more became more agentic, and women who were more successful in their work became both more agentic and more normadhering. This pattern of associations between personality change and work experience provided support for the plasticity model of personality change.