24. February 2021

30 isn't old!

Psychology professor Jule Specht explores how personalities change over the course of life

Jule Specht © Jens Gyarmaty/HU Berlin
Jule Specht is a psychologist at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Credit: © Jens Gyarmaty/HU Berlin

It was long believed that personality development is mostly completed at 30. However, results from psychology research show: There is a lot going on beyond one’s 30th birthday – people go through considerable changes, especially in the last third of their lives. Jule Specht, the Adlershof-based research from Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, examines how personality develops through the life course and which influencing factors play a role in it.

Adlershof Journal: The 30th birthday is seen as a sort of magical threshold. Is it true that personality development is mostly completed after that?

Jule Specht: Indeed, it was generally held that people change very strongly until the age of 30. Many have by then found their social niche: They have a permanent place to live, a job, and a family. These can all be stabilising environmental factors – and so many thought that the personality stays largely stable after 30. However, we were able to show: similar personality changes can be observed when going into retirement like in first third of life. In the middle of one’s life, changes are possible but usually less severe. It is thus not uncommon that people continue to move, change jobs and partners, which leads to very different life courses. People who constantly learns new things will also learn new things about themselves and their personalities will be more changeable compared to those establishing themselves in a stable environment early on.

You have studied how personality changes at an older age in a series of research projects. What, to you, were the most interesting results?

Old age is often seen as a life phase characterised by restrictions. However, there are of course many people at retirement age that see this time not as a burden but as a chance to try new things. When reaching retirement, many old routines are dropped, freeing up space to travel, learn a new language, or to do volunteering. Old age can also offer a lot of creative freedom, especially for people who are financially secure and in good health – much more than is usually assumed.

The Technology Park Adlershof will celebrate its 30th birthday in March. Are there parallels between the development of a site and the development of human personality?

Studies from geographic psychology show that the different personality traits are typical for different regions. In regions with a high density of people who are open to new experiences, for example, there is more innovation, more filings of patents – it also shows that the development of a location is significantly affected by the people it can attract. And so, it is good that Adlershof brings together people at the research institutes, companies, and technology centres that think outside the box. To date, the focus in Adlershof was on technology and the natural sciences. An additional innovation accelerator could be to further break down barriers between scientific disciplines in view of future challenges like the social-ecological transformation and to bring together the perspective of sociology and physics, for example, or psychology and biochemistry.

Do you have any tips for people that are 30 years old now?

I find that a key challenge is to maintain a balance: on the one hand, we get to know ourselves better in the course of our lives and, at 30, we know what our needs, strengths, and weaknesses are, how we like to spend out time, and what we should steer clear of. On the other hand, it’s important to dare to step out of the comfort zone, try new things, and outgrow oneself. I hope for today’s 30-year-olds that they succeed in enjoying both.

Interview by Nora Lessing for Adlershof Journal.