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New research describes effective ways of changing long-term personality traits & other persistent behaviour patterns (1st post)

Hudson and Fraley's great new article "Volitional personality trait change: Can people choose to change their personality traits?" still just has "online first" status at the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology so it hasn't even got to "hot off the press" yet.  It describes such interesting findings.  The abstract reads "Previous research has found that most people want to change their personality traits. But can people actually change their personalities just because they want to? To answer this question, we conducted 2, 16-week intensive longitudinal randomized experiments. Across both studies, people who expressed goals to increase with respect to any Big Five personality trait at Time 1 tended to experience actual increases in their self-reports of that trait—as well as trait-relevant daily behavior—over the subsequent 16 weeks. Furthermore, we tested 2 randomized interventions designed to help participants attain desired trait changes. Although 1 of the interventions was inefficacious, a second intervention that trained participants to generate implementation intentions catalyzed their ability to attain trait changes. We also tested several theoretical processes through which volitional changes might occur. These studies suggest that people may be able to change their self-reported personality traits through volitional means, and represent a first step toward understanding the processes that enable people to do so."

I have written before about Professor Chris Fraley's work and his "informative, witty, generous and fascinating" website at the University of Illinois.  If you ask politely he'll also send you the full text of requested articles (including this one on volitional trait change).  In it the authors point out "A vast majority of people want to change at least some aspects of their personality traits (Hudson & Roberts, 2014). For example, Hudson and Roberts (2014) found that, on the low end, more than 87% of their participants reported wanting to become more extraverted than they were at the time—and on the high end, over 97% expressed desires to increase in conscientiousness."   For more on this latter paper see "Goals to change personality traits: Concurrent links between personality traits, daily behavior, and goals to change oneself".  And if you want to check what personality traits you might consider adjusting, this blog post contains links to an interesting version of the Big Five model of personality that you can use for assessment and monitoring. 

Actually another great new research paper by Robert Elliott, another "hero" of mine, provides a fine way in to other relevant therapeutic change targets.  This research "Psychometrics of the Personal Questionnaire: A client-generated outcome measure" is also still just in "online first" format.  Its abstract reads "We present a range of evidence for the reliability and validity of data generated by the Personal Questionnaire (PQ), a client-generated individualized outcome measure, using 5 data sets from 3 countries. Overall pretherapy mean internal consistency (alpha) across clients was .80, and within-client alphas averaged .77; clients typically had 1 or 2 items that did not vary with the other items. Analyses of temporal structure indicated high levels of between-clients variance (58%), moderate pretherapy test-retest correlation (r = .57), and high session-to-session Lag-1 autocorrelation (.82). Scores on the PQ provided clear evidence of convergence with a range of outcome measures (within-client r = .41). Mean pre-post effects were large (d = 1.25). The results support a revised caseness cutoff of 3.25 and a reliable change index interval of 1.67. We conclude that PQ data meet criteria for evidence-based, norm-referenced measurement of client psychological distress for supporting psychotherapy practice and research."  Sorry, that abstract is going to sound a bit jargony to many.  What the authors have done is shown how "idiographic" measures like the "Personal Questionnaire" can be viewed as solid rather than sloppy ways to assess & monitor client change, as a balance to the widely used, potentially over-general "nomothetic" measures.

In Robert's paper, the authors write "The PQ is a client-generated individualized outcome measure designed to measure changes in individualized psychological difficulties in a consistent manner ... Items were first elicited from clients using a simple, open-ended “Problem Description Form,” which asked them to describe the problems that led them to seek treatment and that they wanted help with in therapy. A trained interviewer (generally an intake worker or researcher) then reviewed this list, transferring the problems onto individual note cards. In this process, the interviewer asked whether the client wanted to include any problems for each of five topic areas (if not already given): symptoms, mood, specific performance, relationships, and self-esteem.  He or she then helped the client separate complex statements, clarified ambiguous statements, and encouraged the client to discard redundant statements to arrive at a list of approximately 10 simple, nonredundant problem statements.  After the list of problems was finalized, the interviewer asked the client to rank order them from most important to least important. The client was then instructed to “rate each of the following problems according to how much it has bothered you during the past seven days, including today,” using a seven-point anchored scale (1 = not at all, 2 = very little, 3 = little, 4 = moderately, 5 = considerably, 6 = very considerably, 7 = maximum possible).  Finally the client was asked to rate problem duration, also on a seven-point anchored scale (1 = less than one month, 2 - 1-5 months, 3 = 6-11 months, 4 = 1-2 years, 5 = 3-5 years, 6 = 6-10 years, 7 = more than 10 years) ... Afterward, the client's PQ was typed up, leaving space for him or her to note any additional difficulties that he or she might subsequently experience.  On subsequent administrations, clients rated severity (for the past week) only."  Detailed instructions and relevant PQ forms are freely downloadable from the internet.

For what to do with all this information, see tomorrow's post "New research describes effective ways of changing long-term personality traits & other persistent behaviour patterns (2nd post)".


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