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Childhood personality as a harbinger of competence and resilience in adulthood

  • Rebecca L. Shiner (a1) and Ann S. Masten (a2)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 17 April 2012

This study examined the significance of childhood Big Five personality traits for competence and resilience in early adulthood. Resilience was defined in terms of adaptive success in age-salient developmental tasks despite significant adversity throughout childhood/adolescence. The Project Competence Longitudinal Study tracked 205 young people from childhood (around age 10) to emerging adulthood (EA, age 20) and young adulthood (YA, age 30; 90% retention). Multimethod composites were created for personality traits, adversity exposure, and adult outcomes of academic achievement, work, rule-abiding conduct, friendship, and romantic relationships. Regressions showed significant main effects of childhood personality predicting adult outcomes, controlling for adversity, with few interaction effects. In person-focused analyses, the resilient group in EA and YA (high competence, high adversity) showed higher childhood conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness and lower neuroticism than the maladaptive group (low competence, high adversity). The competent (high competence, low adversity) and resilient groups showed similar childhood traits. Turnaround cases, who changed from the maladaptive group in EA to the resilient group in YA, exhibited higher childhood conscientiousness than persistently maladaptive peers. Findings suggest that children on pathways to success in adulthood, whether facing low or high adversity, have capacities for emotion regulation, empathy and connection, dedication to schoolwork, and mastery and exploration.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Rebecca L. Shiner, Department of Psychology, Colgate University, 13 Oak Drive, Hamilton, NY 13346; E-mail:
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