Personality development: Continuity and change over the life course

Dan P. McAdams, Bradley D. Olson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

558 Scopus citations


The development of personality across the human life course may be observed from three different standpoints: the person as actor (behaving), agent (striving), and author (narrating). Evident even in infancy, broad differences in social action patterns foreshadow the long-term developmental elaboration of early temperament into adult dispositional traits. Research on personal strivings and other motivational constructs provides a second perspective on personality, one that becomes psychologically salient in childhood with the consolidation of an agentic self and the articulation of more-or-less stable goals. Layered over traits and goals, internalized life stories begin to emerge in adolescence and young adulthood, as the person authors a narrative identity to make meaning out of life. The review traces the development of traits, goals, and life stories from infancy through late adulthood and ends by considering their interplay at five developmental milestones: age 2, the transition to adolescence, emerging adulthood, midlife, and old age.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)517-542
Number of pages26
JournalAnnual review of psychology
StatePublished - Jan 10 2010


  • Lifespan development
  • Motives and goals
  • Narrative identity
  • Personality traits
  • Temperament

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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