- Recent research indicates that families seem to have shared personality profiles.
- Shared family personality profiles can affect the health and happiness of children well into adulthood.
- A critical element that may differentiate healthy from unhealthy shared family personalities is the levels of shared neuroticism.
Do families “share” personality types, and do those early shared personalities affect you as an adult?
We all know that some aspects of personality are inborn, and the family environment shapes other parts. In a new study from longitudinal research following people from infancy to middle adulthood, it appears that families do indeed share personality profiles. More importantly, those personality types can affect an individual’s health and happiness well into adulthood.
A recent study from the Fullerton Longitudinal Study used advanced statistical techniques (Latent Profile Analysis) to examine “shared” family personality. Teenage children and their parents participated in the study, completing the Big Five personality inventory. The analysis looked at how the parents’ and child’s personality profiles revealed shared elements. Three personality profiles emerged:
The first was labeled the “ordinary family.” It consisted of shared above-average levels of Extraversion and Openness to Experience, below-average levels of Agreeableness and Conscientiousness, and average levels of Neuroticism. This was the most common family personality profile, covering more than half of the families.
The second profile was labeled the “resilient family” and consisted of above-average levels of Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Openness, and below-average levels of Neuroticism.
The third and least common profile was labeled the “unhealthful family.” It was characterized by below-average levels of Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness, average levels of Openness, and above-average levels of Neuroticism.
At age 38, the children completed self-report measures of happiness and global health (both self-reported physical and psychological health). Children from the “resilient” families reported the highest levels of happiness as adults, followed by children from “ordinary” families, with the children of “unhealthful” families reporting the lowest levels of adult happiness.
A similar pattern was found with global health. In this case, children from “resilient” and “ordinary” families had higher levels of health compared to the children from the “unhealthful” families. Children from the “resilient” and “ordinary” families did not differ statistically on their self-reported physical and psychological health.
This is the first study to identify shared family personality—combining the personality inventories completed by mothers, fathers, and children—and measure the impact on the children decades later. It suggests that aspects of personality are shared among family members, but more importantly, these shared personality profiles can impact children likely throughout their adult lives.
An important component that seems to be influencing the positive-negative outcomes of adult happiness and health seems to be neuroticism, which is consistent with other research that suggests that individuals high on the neuroticism scale are at greater risk of experiencing adverse psychological outcomes.
This research is in press in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.
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Preston, K.S.J., Pizano, N.K., Garner, K.M., Gottfried, A.W., Gottfried, A.E., Guerin, D.W., Ramos, M.C., Cheng, C.E., & Oliver, P.H. (in press). Identifying family personality profiles using latent profile analysis: Relations to happiness and health. Personality and Individual Differences.
Merz, E.L., & Roesch, S.C. (2011). A latent profile analysis of the Five Factor Model of personality: Modeling trait interactions. Personality and Individual Differences, 47, 1181-1195.