For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Plaster or plasticity: are adult work experiences associated with personality change in women?"

by Roberts, B W (1997)


The present study tested whether work experiences were associated with personality change across two periods of adulthood (age 21 to 27 and 27 to 43) in a longitudinal sample of women (N = 81). Two competing theoretical perspectives were tested: the plaster theory, which claims that personality does not change after age 30, and the plasticity theory, which claims that personality can change at any time in adulthood. Evidence was found for both correlational consistency of personality in adulthood and for the socialization effect of work on personality change. Work experiences were not associated with personality change in young adulthood but were associated with changes between young adulthood and midlife. In the period from age 27 to age 43 women who worked more became more agentic, and women who were more successful in their work became both more agentic and more normadhering. This pattern of associations between personality change and work experience provided support for the plasticity model of personality change.

Key Passage

If occupational experiences are associated with personality development at any time in adulthood, what are the mechanisms and processes through which work would affect psychological functioning? Several mechanisms categorized under the term "socialization processes" are thought to underlie personality change. For example, individuals often change their behavior as they leam the norms associated with their work roies (Tumer, 1974). People also leam role-appropriate behavior through identification with, or emulation of, a role model such as a mentor or supervisor (Bandura, 1969). Individuals also change their identity by observing how coworkers and supervisors perceive them, and redefine their self-perceptions according to the opinions of significant players in each social role and situation, the latter being the essential ideas of symbolic interactionism (Mead, 1934; Stryker & Statham, 1985). The most intensively studied occupational socialization model is Kohn and Schooler's (1973) "leaming-generalization" model. It suggests that our psychological makeup changes in response to the specific pressures and demands of work (Kohn, 1977; Mortimer, 1988). Implicit in the leaming-generalization model is the notion that people draw conclusions about their behavior from their own actions. When people successfully cope with the day-to-day responsibilities of their career, they come to see themselves as the source of their behavior. This tendency to attribute responsibility for behavior to the self rather than the situation leads to an increased likelihood that people attribute new behavior to intemal. intrinsic, stable aspects of the personality (e.g., Bem, 1972; Deci & Ryan, 1990). (p.208)


Personality, Personality Theory, Personality Change, Metal Development, Plasticity, Mental Plasticity, Women


Women and Work, Psychological Centrality of Work

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