Adjustment and Growth

Two Trajectories of Positive Personality Development across Adulthood

Authored by: Ursula M. Staudinger , Eva-Marie Kessler

Handbook of Research on Adult Learning and Development

Print publication date:  November  2008
Online publication date:  November  2008

Print ISBN: 9780805858198
eBook ISBN: 9780203887882
Adobe ISBN: 9781135597405


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Theories of personality development typically describe changes in personality functioning during adulthood as “maturation” or “growth.” In a similar fashion, adult developmentalists have interpreted recent empirical findings on age-related changes in personality measures as being indicative of maturation across adulthood. We would like to suggest that not necessarily can any personality change occurring during adulthood and old age be interpreted as maturation, even though personality maturity is probably one of the few positive facets of the aging stereotype. It is part of lay wisdom that if there is anything positive about aging it is that we gain in experience and become more mature and dignified or even wise as we grow older (Heckhausen, Dixon, & Baltes, 1989). However, one of us has recently argued that the observed pattern of personality development across adulthood suggests that there are not one, but rather two types of positive personality development, that is, adjustment and growth (Staudinger, Doerner, & Mickler, 2005; Staudinger & Kunzmann, 2005). In this chapter, in contrast to some of the extant literature and lay theory, we will argue that as we age, on average, we tend towards optimizing adjustment rather than personality growth.

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