There are plenty of sayings out there that insinuate that people can’t change. There’s the,“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” one for starters. But I don’t believe it. How many stories have you heard about near-death experiences where people come out of the incident with a brand new outlook on life? How many people have lost more than 50 pounds on the Biggest Loser?
The question, then, is what does it take to make someone change? Can you design some sort of regimen to affect somebody’s personality?
According to new research from the University of Illinois, you can.
Professors of psychology Brent Roberts and Elizabeth Stine-Morrow took 183 volunteers ranging in age from 60 to 94. They then put half of them through a program designed to boost their cognitive skills. This included a series of pattern-recognition and problem-solving tasks and puzzles that they could perform at home. As they got better, they received more difficult tasks after turning in their “homework” at the lab each week.
Naturally, those who participated in the practice sessions saw improvement in their performances in related tasks. But what was more surprising – to me at least – is that they also showed a change in personality; they became more open, daring and willing to try new things. And naturally, those in the control group who did not participate in the practice sessions showed no changes in performance or personality.
The researchers suggest that the increase in skills led to an increase in confidence in their reasoning abilities, which possibly enabled greater enjoyment of intellectually challenging and creative endeavors.
So even when you get to be 70, your brain is not set in stone. Not only can you learn new tricks, you can become a different person. And in order to change personality, you don’t necessarily even have to do anything that is all that closely related to the changed trait.
The paper is titled “Can An Old Dog Learn (and Want to Experience) New Tricks: Cognitive Training Increases Openness to Experience in Older Adults.”