Editor’s note: This post was written by Rebecca Shiner, professor of psychology
To what extent do we maintain the same personality traits from childhood to adulthood? Are our most extraverted college classmates likely to be the most extraverted middle-aged adults at our 25th college reunion? How do our motivations and goals shape the course of our lives? Do the ways that we narrate our experiences shape our well-being and satisfaction with our lives?
I have spent the last two weeks in Boston exploring questions like these with a group of 15 graduate students from PhD programs in social and personality psychology from the United States, Canada, and the Netherlands.
Normally, Colgate professors do not teach during the summer and use that time to focus on their scholarship instead. But, I was offered the opportunity to co-teach a two-week course on personality development as part of the Summer Institute for Social and Personality Psychology, held at Northeastern University this July.
Every other year, this program brings together top PhD students to explore an area of personality and social psychology that they have not had a chance to delve into in graduate school. I had never taught graduate students before, so I was glad to have an opportunity to make an impact on the next generation of scholars in my field. I was also eager to teach the course alongside my colleague and friend Brent Donnellan, a psychology professor at Texas A&M.
The past two weeks teaching this course have been exhausting (teaching from 9 to 4 every day is intense!) but immensely rewarding. Brent and I have introduced the students to the big ideas and recent research findings on the development of temperament, personality traits, goals and motivations, values, and life stories across the lifespan from childhood to old age.
We have offered workshops on how to assess personality traits, how to design a study that follows people across time, how to publish, and how to get and thrive in an academic job. And in my favorite part of the course, we introduced students to the 7 Up film series, which has tracked the lives of a group of 14 British people every seven years from the age of 7 through the most recent installment at age 56; this film series provides a remarkable opportunity to watch personality development in a vivid, up-close way.
I am excited to return to teaching students at Colgate this fall, with renewed enthusiasm for introducing them to these same fundamentally important questions about how our lives unfold over time.
Addendum: For those interested in learning more about personality development, I highly recommend an accessible and engaging new book by Dan McAdams, The Art and Science of Personality Development. And, for watching real lives unfold over time, the 7 Up series cannot be beat; most of the series is on Netflix.