Two Personality Differences Found in Boys and Girls

New research explores personality differences in early adolescence.

Posted Dec 01, 2020

Sok bopha / Wikimedia Commons
Source: Sok bopha / Wikimedia Commons

Psychologists tend to use five overarching traits to describe people's personalities: extraversion, agreeableness, openness to experience, neuroticism, and conscientiousness.

New research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology applied this "Big Five" personality framework to early adolescent girls and boys (between the ages of 9 and 13), with the goal of understanding which personality traits showed the most divergence, and the most continuity, during these formative years.

The researchers found three points of similarity and two differences between boys and girls. They are described below:

Similarity #1: Openness to experience

Openness to experience reflects the degree to which a person is open and receptive to new experiences. The researchers found this trait to decrease gradually from age 9 to age 13 in both girls and boys.

Similarity #2: Extraversion

Extraversion describes how outgoing, sociable, and positive a person is. The researchers found extraversion to be high in both male and female early adolescents, though it did show a modest decrease from age 9 to 13.

Similarity #3: Agreeableness

Agreeableness refers to the extent to which someone is warm, friendly, tactful, and optimistic. Both male and female early adolescents showed medium levels of agreeableness that rose gradually from age 9 to 13.

Difference #1: Conscientiousness

Conscientiousness is a trait that describes people who have high self-discipline, are methodical, and orderly. The researchers found female early adolescents to exhibit higher levels of conscientiousness than males. Females also showed a greater increase in conscientiousness from age 9 to 13 than did males.

Difference #2: Neuroticism

Neuroticism describes people who are moody and who are more likely to experience negative emotions such as anxiety, fear, frustration, and loneliness. The researchers found that while both boys and girls exhibited low levels of neuroticism at age 9, it was boys who showed more decline in the trait over time than girls.


To arrive at these results, a team of researchers led by Cassandra Brandes of Northwestern University recruited the mothers of 440 children between the ages of 9 and 10 to engage in a multi-wave research project. The mothers’ task was simple: they were asked to fill out a personality test on behalf of their child every year for four consecutive years.

The goal of the research, as stated above, was to explore how early adolescents’ personality changed over time. Two competing hypotheses were at play. One, called the maturity principle, holds that as individuals grow from children into adults, they become more mature, self-regulated, and pro-social.

In other words, they evolve into better versions of their kid selves. A competing hypothesis, called the disruption hypothesis, holds that the path from adolescence to adulthood is not a straight line and that adolescents exhibit dysregulation and antisocial behavior during this developmental stage.

Surprisingly, they found a remarkable degree of stability in these traits. For instance, the trait of shyness, which the researchers categorize as a sub-component of neuroticism, was completely stable across the 4-year span. The traits of intellect, organization, considerateness, and positive emotions also showed little change.

There were some hints of personality change during this developmental stage. For instance, fear, negative emotion, and openness generally decreased from age 9 to 13 while willpower showed an increase. Still, the story is one of continuity and gradual transition more than disruption.

The authors conclude, “Overall, our results show that children’s personality matured to a small degree over the middle childhood period among self-regulatory facets that cross-cut higher-order domains, with disruption only evident among a single facet of openness to experience. These results provide more support for a continuation of personality maturity in the pre-adolescent period than they do for the disruption hypothesis, at least when measured via parent report.”

Facebook image: Iakov Filimonov/Shutterstock


Brandes, C. M., Kushner, S. C., Herzhoff, K., & Tackett, J. L. (2020). Facet-level personality development in the transition to adolescence: Maturity, disruption, and gender differences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.