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Schlüsselmechanismen und Stabilitätskräfte

von NFI Redaktion

A recent review published in the journal Nature Reviews Psychology discussed the four mechanistic aspects – prerequisites, triggers, reinforcers, and integrators – that bring about effective personality change, and the forces that prevent lasting personality changes by promoting stability.

Study: The process and mechanisms of personality change. Image credit: Melitas / Shutterstock

Study: The process and mechanisms of personality change. Image credit: Melitas / Shutterstock


Personality refers to variations in affect, behavior, desires, and cognition caused by individual differences in life goals, self-esteem, values, life satisfaction, and other personality characteristics. The ability to change certain aspects of one’s personality is crucial for life outcomes such as social interactions, successful careers, life expectancy, and prosperity. Recent long-term studies have shown that personalities remain changeable over the course of a person’s life. Despite the possibility of stability over long periods, personalities rarely solidify.

The malleability of personality and its long-term predictive validity have sparked significant research interest in understanding the causes of personality change and implementing interventions for targeted personality change. However, studies have mainly focused on the effects of broad macro processes, such as significant life events, in prompting personality changes. The mechanisms through which intervention studies bring about personality changes remain largely unclear.

About the Study

In the present review, researchers examined the underlying mechanisms and processes through which personality changes occur. In a comprehensive exploration of personality changes, they divided the temporal process of change into four components covering different constructs, rather than discussing a specific aspect of the process.

While researchers acknowledge that biological and genetic mechanisms also contribute to personality changes, this article focuses on environmental mechanisms that induce personality changes. The review also examines the mechanisms that limit potential personality changes by promoting stability. Empirical evidence from studies investigating interventions and life events was also reviewed to better understand the processes that lead to personality changes.


The mechanisms through which personalities change can be loosely categorized into three levels: those that directly effect changes, time- or situation-specific changes, and habits specific to a particular environment. These levels are interconnected, with changes at one level often impacting the other levels.

Personality development theories suggest that the processes and mechanisms that bring about personality changes have varying depths and extents. To examine these mechanisms, researchers defined four categories – prerequisites, triggers, reinforcers, and integrators – that are important in effecting change.

The contexts or circumstances that enable change are referred to as prerequisites. Deliberate personality changes require the motivation or desire to change, either to achieve other goals or to achieve change as a goal in itself. Researchers believe that sustainable and comprehensive personality changes cannot be achieved if the individual does not bring about the desired changes. In some cases, environmental influences can lead to personality changes beyond the individual’s control, such as injuries or incarceration, which also qualify as prerequisites.

Experiences that trigger changes in behaviors, affects, desires, or cognitions at the state level are called triggers. These include internal factors like stress or physiological reactions, as well as external factors like specific circumstances or situations. Therapy, life events, emotion regulation strategies, and social tasks are some environmental triggers that induce changes at the state level. Using specific examples, researchers examined the direct interactions between triggers and manifestations at the state level in an individual.

For lasting personality changes, repeated changes at the trait level are necessary. Internal and external reinforcers can ensure that the triggers inducing behavioral, desire, cognition, and state changes persist long enough to effect lasting personality changes. Researchers cite the example of a substantial paycheck reinforcing diligent behavior in an efficient workplace.

However, to ensure that the reinforced personality changes endure, habits at the feature level must be transformed into personality changes. This also requires that new behaviors, desires, affects, and cognitions in one aspect of an individual’s life be integrated into other life areas. The review suggests that reflection is a way to integrate behavioral, affective, cognitive, or desire changes into one’s personality.

Stabilizing Processes

The review also discussed processes that maintain stability and limit changes. Personality changes are constrained by the need to maintain a familiar environment or sameness and a stable self-concept. Inconsistency in reinforcing changes, lack of sufficient triggers, attributing changes to external factors, and many such mechanisms can limit changes by reinforcing stability.


Overall, the review provided a comprehensive assessment of the mechanisms through which personality changes occur, whether intentional or caused by environmental factors like life events. Using concrete examples, researchers explained how these mechanisms present potential paths for sustainable personality changes. However, they believe that personality changes are often modest and may not be drastic, even when used in an interventional context.

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