Childhood classmates may be better able to predict grown-up personality traits like aggression, likeability and social withdrawal than children themselves, according to a study from Concordia’s Centre for Research in Human Development. The study was conducted by Lisa Serbin of the Department of Psychology and Alexa Martin-Storey, a recent graduate, with data from a project that first evaluated Montreal grade-school children in 1976 using peer and self-evaluations. From Concordia University’s Cléa Desjardins:
Over the next 20 years, these children were closely followed as researchers used the exhaustive longitudinal study to track their progress into adulthood. A follow-up survey was conducted between 1999 and 2003 with nearly 700 of the participants from the initial study. The survey included measurement of adult personality traits, such as levels of neuroticism, extroversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness.
“We were able to compare peer and self-perceptions of the childhood behaviours to these adult personality factors,” says Martin-Storey. “We found the evaluations from the group of peers were much more closely associated with eventual adult outcomes than were their own personality perceptions from childhood. This makes sense, since children are around their peers all day and behaviours like aggressiveness and likeability are extremely relevant in the school environment.”
For example, children who perceived themselves as socially withdrawn exhibited less conscientiousness as adults. On the other hand, kids whose peers perceived them as socially withdrawn grew up to exhibit lower levels of extraversion. The latter being a more accurate association.
Peer-perceived likeability also predicted a more accurate outcome, associating the personality trait with higher levels of agreeableness and conscientiousness, and lower levels of neuroticism than those who thought of themselves as likeable. Overall, the findings supported the use of peer rather than self-ratings of childhood personalities in the prediction of adulthood success.