Your personality is a big part of who you are. The sum of your behaviors and your tendencies form powerful patterns. So it’s no surprise your personality plays a part in the relationships you build and the career you choose. There’s a reason workplace personality testing is a pretty big industry, for better or for worse. Learning to be conscious of your personality will help you to figure out why you act (and react) the way you do. And you can probably look to your personality to learn about why you’re drawn to the jobs, activities, friendships, and relationships that you are.
After all, personality seems pretty fixed. Sure, we can learn to meditate to be a little more calm. Or we can push ourselves to take more risks in making friends or shaping our careers. Many of us would like to be more friendly or more in control of our emotions. And perhaps we’d like to be more open to new experiences. But our ability to achieve those is probably linked to what we’re working with in terms of personality. It’s unlikely we can make lasting changes to our personalities, right?
That might sound like common sense. But as we all spend more and more hours glued to our smartphones and scrolling through social media, some surprising evidence is popping up. Your beloved iPhone or Android phone may be changing your personality — at least in a few specific ways. Thought you were set in your ways and not susceptible to the more negative effects of smartphone use just because you aren’t totally addicted to your device? Think again.
Can your personality even change?
Before we go any further, let’s set the record straight. Psychologists haven’t always been in agreement on the question of whether you can change your personality. As Scott Barry Kaufman reports for The Atlantic, almost everyone has something they want to change about their personality. “But beneath theories on what drives people to change, there’s a more fundamental question debated by psychologists: Can personality even be changed in the first place?”
Researchers have concluded your personality does evolve throughout your life. A few studies have indicated people can make intentional changes to the pattern of behaviors that shape their personality. That’s a possibility particularly if you set achievable goals with concrete, specific steps. Expectations of fast and radical change are unrealistic. Kaufman notes that “it takes many years to develop patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.” It takes time to change those patterns. But doing so is very possible.
Your personality is constantly changing, even if you don’t notice
This leads us to the next interesting piece of evidence we have about how our personalities can change over the years. As John Cloud and Laura Blue report for Time, researchers suggest our personalities are constantly changing — even if we think that they (and we) are staying the same over time. Cloud and Blue note that “most people seem to believe that who they are now is pretty much who they will be forever.” They continue, “Although personality and values do tend to become more stable with age, people generally underestimate the extent of future personality shifts. The researchers call this phenomenon ‘the end of history illusion.'”
Throughout our lives, our beliefs and values change continually, and often significantly. Many of us will admit that our personalities and our preferences have changed in the past. But few of us envision how significantly those things will change in the future. “In short, people may commit errors of prediction more often than they succumb to errors of memory,” Cloud and Blue comment. In other words, we understand we’ve changed in the past. But we aren’t too comfortable with the idea we’ll continue to change in the future.
Our smartphones are changing our personalities
We probably all like to think that when our personalities and our behaviors change, they’re changing for the better. But that may not always be true in a world where we’re addicted to our apps and slaves to our smartphones. As Nicole Charky reports for ATTN:, a researcher from MIT posits that thanks to our dependence on our phones, “we are losing some of our ability to tap into natural, personal experiences, like solitude and empathy.” The upshot? Our smartphones are definitely changing our personalities.
When we’re busy checking our Facebook feeds every few minutes or scrolling through Instagram shots, we’re engaging in fewer of the interactions and thought processes that, traditionally, help us to understand and value empathy and solitude. Our smartphones make us less emotionally present, whether we’re with other people or enjoying a moment by ourselves. Over time, that affects our ability to understand who we are and how we relate to others. That’s not a personality change that anyone would be excited to see.
Our smartphones make us less likely to trust others
It makes sense our phones make us less empathetic with others. But others have noted the personality changes may go further. Kostadin Kushlev reports for The Conversation your smartphone may make you less likely to trust other people, such as when you’re traveling somewhere new and need directions to a museum or recommendations for where to stop for lunch. Casual social interactions with strangers are important in building a sense of community and connection. And the bonds between members of a society play a role in economic growth. People who trust others tend to have better health and a higher level of well-being, too.
The more often we use our phones to get information, the less we trust strangers. And the effect applies not only to our trust in strangers, but also to our trust in our neighbors, in people of other religions, and in people of other nationalities. (Fortunately, the effect doesn’t seem to apply to our trust in our friends and family.) Kushlev hypothesizes, “It could be that by substituting screen time for interactions with strangers, we are forgoing opportunities to build a general sense of trust in others.”
People judge our personalities based on our smartphone use
Our smartphone use changes the way we perceive others. But it also changes the way others judge us and assess our personalities. Shana Lebowitz reports for Business Insider people notice if you check your messages or scroll through Facebook during a conversation, and they use that behavior to make judgments about your personality. Lebowitz explains that “some recent scientific research suggests that it is possible to draw inferences about someone’s personality based on his relationship to his phone.”
People who are emotionally unstable are likely to constantly check their phones to boost their moods. Materialism is another personality trait that’s associated with smartphone addiction. And people who are either impulsive or have trouble concentrating on the task at hand are also likely to find it difficult to stop checking their phones. In the same way people use your behavior on Facebook to make judgments about your personality, they’re probably pretty well-attuned to how your personality has changed since having a smartphone in your pocket at all times.