Study finds your personality may change but this will always stay the same

The more things change, the more they stay the same. That’s the main gist of a fascinating new study just released by the Complutense University of Madrid that investigated personal identity and how people change and evolve throughout life.

Everyone grows and sees their interests, hobbies, passions, and opinions change over time, but does that mean that our very identity changes as well?

That’s what researchers set out to investigate, ultimately concluding that the core aspect of one’s identity largely remains the same throughout life.

Our attitudes and mindsets are bound to change as the years go by, but that doesn’t mean you stop being you. It’s that sense of self that serves as a thread connecting and interweaving our experiences throughout a lifetime.

Imagine you were allowed to hop in Doc Brown’s Delorean and visit a teenage version of yourself. No doubt you would have a whole lot of advice to impart, but after spending some time with your younger self you would probably also realize just how much you’ve changed since high school. Would that realization make you any more hesitant to help out the teenage version of you? Probably not, it is still you after all.

“In our study, we tried to answer the question of whether we are the same person throughout our lives. In conjunction with the previous literature, our results indicate that there is a component that remains stable while another part is more susceptible to change over time,” explains Miguel Rubianes, a researcher at the Department of Psychobiology and Behavioral Sciences Methodology at the UCM and the Centre for Human Evolution and Behavior.

“To say that one’s identity is an important part of their life would be an understatement. All any of us know is living through our own eyes, and each person has a unique way of seeing the world. It’s this “continuity of the self,” meaning one’s capacity for self-awareness and self-recognition, that remains constant throughout life.

Physical elements (graying hair, changes in muscle mass/weight), physiological processes (cardiovascular health, etc), and personality factors (attitude, values, etc) all change quite often throughout one’s life, but the continuity of the self does not.

The study’s authors say their findings “improve our understanding of human nature.”

To reach these conclusions, a group of 20 participants had their brain activity recorded via EEG (electroencephalography) while solving a series of identity and age recognition tasks. For instance, after being presented with an identity description, participants were instructed to determine if the identity in question was their own, a close friend’s, or belonging to a stranger.

Notably, participants were able to consistently pick out their own identity within just a fraction of a second (250 milliseconds to be exact), effectively confirming that no one knows you better than you.

The research team theorizes that loss of “continuity of the self” occurs in a variety of personality disorders like bipolar disorder, as well as more serious conditions like depression and schizophrenia. 

“This demonstrates the importance of basic and clinical research alike in the study of the role of personal identity, as this promises to be a much more important concept than was previously thought and may play a fundamental role in psychological assessment and intervention processes,” Rubianes concludes.

When it comes to this type of subject matter, it’s very easy to fall into seemingly endless philosophical and existential rabbit holes. From theories describing alternate realities and multiverses to any number of psychological debates and theories, mankind has been asking these questions for a long, long time. Without getting too deep into all that, this research comes to a moderate, logical conclusion. Yes, you’re not the same person you were years ago, but at the end of the day (or any day for that matter), your identity remains.

They say the only constant in life is change, but this study is comforting in the sense that it has found at least one other constant: you.  

The full study can be found here, published in Psychophysiology.