Can smartphone apps change your personality?

Key takeaway

  • A new study found that daily use of smartphone apps can change personality traits.
  • The researchers were surprised that the participants were able to turn their personality traits into the direction they wanted so quickly.
  • Research on digital personality change intervention is still in its infancy, so more research is needed.

Most of us have something that we don’t like 100%—perhaps an impulsive personality, or a grumpy temper. What if these personality traits can be changed by using smartphone apps every day?This is the focus of a new study by an international research team led by the University of Zurich, which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.of

The lead author, Dr. Mirjam Stieger of Waltham Brandeis University in Massachusetts, said: “Personality traits predict important aspects of life, such as job success, health and even longevity.” “So we wanted to test the characteristics of personality traits. The degree of plasticity, and to test whether people can actively shape their own personality traits with the help of digital intervention in a relatively short period of time (that is, three months).”

The researchers also want to test whether friends and family can detect these personality changes, and whether the study participants can maintain any personality changes after the intervention.

Aaron Weiner, PhD, ABPP, MAC

Apps are a great way to develop new habits and learn new skills, especially those that have been researched and proven effective.

— Aaron Weiner, PhD, ABPP, MAC

About the research

Approximately 1,500 participants received a specially developed smartphone application PEACH (Personality coACH) for three months. After that, the researchers assessed whether their personality had changed—and if so, how.

Five main personality traits were tested: openness, conscientiousness, sociability (extroversion), considerateness (agreeableness), and emotional vulnerability (neuroticism).

The application includes elements such as knowledge transfer, behavior and resource activation, self-reflection and progress feedback. Virtual partners (chatbots) communicate with participants every day and provide support to help them make the required changes.

Most participants said that they wanted to reduce their emotional vulnerability, increase their sense of responsibility, or increase their extroversion.

Mirjam Stieger, PhD

[A] The surprising finding is that most of the participants were able to maintain their personality changes within three months after the end of the intervention.

— Dr. Mirjam Stieger

Participants were randomly divided into two treatment groups: the intervention group and the alternate control group. Participants in the waiting list control group selected and indicated their change goals before the one-month waiting period, and then they received the same three-month intervention as the intervention group.

The researchers found that the participants in the waiting list control group did not change their personality characteristics during the one-month waiting period, but the participants who received the intervention reported that they had changed in the direction they wanted.

Stieger said the researchers were surprised by their findings—especially, how quickly participants were able to change their personality traits, and most participants were able to change in the direction they wanted.

“We also found that friends and family members were able to detect personality changes, but the ratings of these observers were not as obvious as self-reports,” she added. “Another surprising finding is that most of the participants were able to maintain their personality changes within three months after the intervention.”

The changes that friends and family noticed mainly occurred in participants who wanted to increase the expression of a certain personality trait. On the other hand, people who are close to those who want to reduce the expression of their personality traits hardly notice the change.

But it is important to note that most groups who want to reduce the expression of personality characteristics want to become less emotionally vulnerable-this is a major internal process that is not always easy to observe from the outside.

Karen Peters, MS, LMHC

Change is not easy, and [it] As we gain a deeper understanding of our actions, their functions, and their consequences, it can sometimes be painful.

— Karen Peters, Ms. LMHC

How to change your character?

If you want to change one or more of your personality characteristics, according to Dr. Aaron Weiner, a registered clinical psychologist and addiction consultant, ABPP, MAC, it boils down to two main factors: consistency and structure.

“We are very regular creatures; unless you repeat new things over and over again, and you may have external reminders or responsible partners to help you, you will end up going back to the old way,” Weiner said. “Repetition is key, make sure you have the appropriate support to help you stick to your path when making changes.”

Karen Peters (MS, LMHC), a licensed mental health consultant, believes that personality characteristics are usually fixed, but if the person wishes and chooses to make changes, they can change the behavior of these characteristics at any time. “Change is not easy, and [it] As we gain a deeper understanding of our behavior, its function, and its consequences, it can sometimes be painful,” she said.

Mirjam Stieger, PhD

Due to its low barriers to entry and technical scalability, digital personality change interventions can be implemented in various environments. However, more research is needed, for example, to better understand which mechanisms and intervention components are responsible for personality changes.

— Dr. Mirjam Stieger

Peters expressed some concerns that seeking to change your personality and make you unique may be a misguided path. “There have been so many changes in the past few decades, especially related to the rise of technology, instant information and instant gratification, and anxiety has also increased,” she said.

Peters added: “I do believe that the pursuit of more-more property, more points, more greatness, more beauty, etc.-has caused many people to ignore their personal value. “The more beneficial way is to focus on who we are, how we feel, and how we live more meaningful and fulfilling lives. This definitely includes improving behavioral function sometimes, but personality changes seem to be more than most people need. many.”

Weiner has a different view. “I don’t believe that we are fundamentally the same thing: we all have the ability to learn, change and grow,” he said. “Choosing to be more serious or less neurotic will not fundamentally change a person’s nature, nor will it change your core values, interests, or morals. Healthy, thoughtful self-improvement is a normal part of lifelong development. Your own hard work is a sign of maturity.”

The application may only be part of the process

Weiner thinks it makes sense that apps can be used to promote personality changes. “Many people think that people will not change, but that is not the case!” he said. “Although personality is more fluid early in life, our personality will continue to develop into adulthood because we tend to become more serious, easy-going and less neurotic. Apps are a great way to develop new habits and learn new skills, especially Those methods that have been researched and proven to be effective.”

Peters warned that while there are apps that can support anything, it is important to remember that they exist for support, not as a substitute for one’s own research, reflection, insight, and change.

“The use of the application itself does not affect the change-the change is influenced by internal motivations,” she said. “Apps are a useful way to support work through reminders, information, tracking, reinforcement, accountability, etc. New research proves this by determining that the outcome of change is consistent with the individual’s desire to change.”

Karen Peters, MS, LMHC

Apps are a useful way to support work through reminders, information, tracking, reinforcement, accountability, etc. New research proves this by determining that the outcome of the change is consistent with the individual’s desire for change.

— Karen Peters, Ms. LMHC

For those who want to change personality traits, Peters recommends keeping a log about the trait to explore it and its related behaviors and consequences. “I will ask them to explore why they have not succeeded in changing behaviors before; maladaptive behaviors may have secondary benefits,” she explained. “Then, when we make a change plan, I will help them further explore this information in the context of other characteristics, environments, relationships, etc.”

What this means to you

It is not clear whether the changes made by the study participants using digital interventions are permanent or temporary, and this field of research is still in its infancy. “Due to the low threshold and technical scalability of digital personality change intervention, it can be implemented in a variety of environments,” Stig said. “However, more research is needed, for example, to better understand which mechanisms and intervention components are responsible for personality changes.”

.