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discussions, stats, and author profiles for this publication at:

Childhood personality as a harbinger of

competence and resilience in adulthood


Impact Factor: 4.89 DOI: 10.1017/S0954579412000120 Source: PubMed


36 245


Rebecca L Shiner
Colgate University


Available from: Rebecca L Shiner

Retrieved on: 23 February 2016
Development and Psychopathology 24 (2012), 507528
# Cambridge University Press 2012


Childhood personality as a harbinger of competence and resilience

in adulthood


Colgate University; and b University of Minnesota

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.

Children growing up in conditions of adversity face many may promote positive functioning in the face of adversity;
challenges as they move into adolescence and adulthood, in- there is considerable evidence, for example, showing that
cluding heightened risks for academic failure, social difficul- IQ, self-regulation, and positive self-perceptions are associ-
ties, conduct problems, and various forms of psychopathol- ated with good developmental outcomes among children
ogy (Burt & Masten, 2009; Luecken & Gress, 2010; who have overcome diverse disadvantages and adversities
Luthar, 2006). Yet, a surprising number of children facing se- (Sapienza & Masten, 2011).
rious adversity in their families and communities avoid such Childrens personality traits, which are their typical pat-
negative outcomes and show positive patterns of develop- terns of behaving, thinking, and feeling, are likely to be an-
ment; such phenomena have come to be labeled resilience other source of resilience as young people navigate the years
(Masten, 2001). A number of childhood factors have been from childhood to adulthood. Although a number of studies
identified as promoting resilience, including contextual fac- have examined the contributions of childrens traits to resili-
tors such as positive parenting and schools (Luthar, 2006; ent outcomes over shorter time windows (Lengua & Wachs,
Masten, 2007). Childrens individual differences likewise in press), few studies have examined the contributions of a
broad range of childhood traits to the development of resili-
ence in adulthood. The present study examines the contribu-
tions of the Big Five personality traits assessed in childhood
Work on this paper was supported by grants from the Colgate Research Coun-
cil and from a Presidential Scholar award from Colgate University (to R.L.S.)
to resilient outcomes assessed in the transition to adulthood
and the Fesler-Lampert Chair in Urban and Regional Affairs (to A.S.M.). The (around age 20) and young adult years (age 30) in the longi-
results were based on data collected as part of the Project Competence Lon- tudinal Project Competence study of risk and resilience (Gar-
gitudinal Study, which has been supported through grants to Ann Masten, mezy & Tellegen, 1984; Masten & Powell, 2003; Masten &
Auke Tellegen, and Norman Garmezy from the National Institute of Mental Tellegen, 2012).
Health (MH33222), the William T. Grant Foundation, the National Science
Foundation (SBR-9729111), and the University of Minnesota. Any conclu-
sions or views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not nec-
essarily reflect the views of the National Institute of Mental Health, National Risk, Competence, and Resilience: A Conceptual
Science Foundation, or William T. Grant Foundation. Overview
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Rebecca L. Shiner, De-
partment of Psychology, Colgate University, 13 Oak Drive, Hamilton, NY Over the last four decades, researchers have developed in-
13346; E-mail: creasingly complex models for describing and investigating
508 R. L. Shiner and A. S. Masten

resilience in young people who overcome adversity (Egeland, in competence in work and romantic relationships, two do-
Carlson, & Sroufe, 1993; Garmezy, Masten, & Tellegen, mains that become especially salient in young adulthood
1984; Luthar, 2006; Luthar, Cicchetti, & Becker, 2000; Mas- (McCormick et al., 2011; Roisman, Masten, Coatsworth, &
ten, 2001, in press; Masten et al., 1988; Rutter, 1987; Werner Tellegen, 2004).
& Smith, 1982, 1992, 2001). Resilience can be conceptual- Much of the early work on resilience addressed the question
ized as the capacity of a dynamic system to withstand or re- of what factors or processes enable children to attain positive
cover from significant challenges that threaten its stability, outcomes despite exposure to adversity and risk (Masten,
viability, or development (Masten, 2011, p. 494). Although 2007, in press). As with the concepts of risk and positive adap-
there remain disagreements about the definition of resilience, tation, these factors have been conceptualized in a variety of
most contemporary models require two conditions to be met ways. Two particularly important basic models for defining
for identifying resilience in the lives of individuals (Luthar, these factors are main effect models and moderating ef-
2006; Masten, 2007, 2011): the individual must have been ex- fects models. In the case of main effects, the identified factors
posed to significant risk that increases the likelihood of are related to outcomes of interest in similar ways across levels
negative development, and the individual must display posi- of risk exposure. Factors with positive effects independent of
tive adaptation in spite of that risk. risk have been variously termed promotive factors (Sameroff,
Risk is a very broad term referring to elevated probability for 2000), assets, or resources. For example, in a study of children
some undesired outcome in a population or group, and a risk either exposed or not exposed to domestic violence, easy tem-
factor usually designates an attribute (of the individual or the perament predicted positive outcomes, regardless of the chil-
context) that is associated with the negative outcome (Masten, drens violence exposure (Martinez-Torteya, Bogat, von Eye,
in press). Individuals with the risk factor have a generally & Levendosky, 2009). In many cases, however, and particu-
higher likelihood of developing the undesired outcome, but larly in the case of individual differences in personality, the
whether they actually do develop the problem will vary: risk same attribute could be easily described by positive or negative
is a probabilistic concept. Adversity, including negative or trau- language, because it is distributed along a continuum.
matic life experiences, encompasses a broad subtype of risk fac- In the case of moderating effects, the effects of the mod-
tors, whether acute (e.g., car accident) or chronic (e.g., child erator variable differ depending on level of risk exposure
maltreatment) in nature. Risk factors commonly co-occur or (Masten, 2001, in press). Moderators are described as pro-
pile up in the lives of individuals, and often show cumulative tective factors when the expected negative effect of high
effects; on average, problems tend to arise as risk cumulates, a risk or adversity appears to be attenuated or reduced in the
phenomenon described in terms of risk gradients or dose effects presence of the protective factor. For example, in a study of
(Obradovic, Shaffer, & Masten, in press). young homeless children, parenting quality moderated risk,
Positive adaptation likewise has been defined in a variety of such that when sociodemographic risk was high, the achieve-
ways across studies. Although some researchers have focused ment of children with good parenting quality appeared to be
on the absence of problematic behaviors as the developmental protected (Herbers et al., 2011). In the case of individual dif-
outcome of interest, most work on psychosocial resilience in- ferences in personality as moderators of adversity, when ad-
stead has focused on the development of positive outcomes versity is expected to have negative effects on outcomes, per-
(Luthar, 2006; Masten, in press). These positive outcomes sonality traits could attenuate the effects of adversity
may include external adaptation (e.g., academic achievement (protective function) or exacerbate them (vulnerability effect)
or the development of positive relationships), internal adapta- or both. Moreover, these effects could vary across situations,
tion (e.g., well-being or maturity), or both. The model adopted developmental timing, or criteria of adaptation.
in the present study conceptualizes positive adaptation in terms In the context of considering the contributions of personal-
of the development of competence, or the accomplishment ity traits to resilience, it is especially important to emphasize
of age-salient developmental tasks (Masten & Coatsworth, that resilience itself is not a trait (Masten, in press). The capac-
1998; Masten et al., 1995; Waters & Sroufe, 1983). Develop- ity for adaptation indicated by the concept of resilience extends
mental tasks encapsulate expectations for behavior in different beyond the individual (e.g., relationships also contribute to re-
domains of life within a particular context, culture, and time in silience), and also is dynamic over time, changing as a result of
history, and they change in different periods of life as people many interactions between individuals and their contexts. Re-
mature and face new challenges (McCormick, Kuo, & Masten, silience emerges from the interplay of many processes in con-
2011). At this time, in the United States and many other soci- cert; it is not a static characteristic of a person (Luthar et al.,
eties, it is widely expected that school-age children will achieve 2000; Masten, 2001, in press; Yates, Egeland, & Sroufe,
in school (academic achievement), follow rules of conduct in 2003). Resilience therefore can change as the person and con-
the home, school, and community (rule-abiding conduct), text change. Sometimes researchers describe particular person-
and get along with peers and develop friendships (social com- ality traits or personality types as being resilient personal-
petence; Masten et al., 1995). These three domains of compe- ities; this name is problematic if it suggests that resilience is
tence remain important in the late adolescent and emerging a stable characteristic of a person. Personality traits undoubt-
adult years spanning the late teens to the 20s (Arnett, edly contribute to the development of resilience (and maladap-
2000), and they play an important role in shaping later success tation), both overall and in specific outcome domains, but the
Childhood personality and resilience 509

processes involved are complex. Moreover, the same trait (e.g., style, expressions of positive emotions, and pleasure and ex-
fearfulness) could be protective with regard to one outcome citement in social interactions (Rothbart, 2011). Neuroticism
(such as delinquency or risk-taking behavior), while at the describes the extent to which a person experiences the world
same time posing vulnerability for another outcome (social as distressing or threatening. More neurotic children routinely
problems or anxiety symptoms). Furthermore, recent research experience a wide variety of negative emotions, such as worry,
on biological sensitivity to context suggests that there may irritability, distress, and feelings of vulnerability and self-con-
be individual differences in how responsive individuals are sciousness. This trait shares significant overlap with a tempera-
to experience. In other words, the same trait could function ment trait called negative emotionality, which taps childrens
to enhance vulnerability in the context of adversity, but in a be- tendencies toward sadness, fear, irritability, and frustration,
nign environment or in an intervention context it could func- and their difficulty with being quieted after high arousal (Roth-
tion to enhance positive adaptation (Belsky, Bakermans-Kra- bart, 2011). Conscientiousness describes the extent and
nenburg, & van IJzendoorn, 2007; Ellis & Boyce, 2011). strength of impulse control in task-focused endeavors. Children
high on this trait are persistent, planful, careful, and attentive ra-
ther than careless and impulsive. This trait appears to be an ex-
Childrens Personality Traits as a Potential Source
panded version of the temperament trait effortful control, which
of Resilience
includes persistence at tasks, pleasure in low intensity situa-
From the inception of research on resilience over four decades tions, and the ability to inhibit impulses and sustain attention
ago, researchers have been interested in the possibility that chil- (Rothbart, 2011). Agreeableness describes a persons interper-
drens traits may influence their capacity to thrive even in the sonal nature on a continuum from warmth and compassion to an-
face of adversity. For example, in the pioneering Kauai Longi- tagonism. Highly agreeable children are cooperative with limits
tudinal Study initiated by Emmy Werner (Werner & Smith, set by adults, generous, kind, and considerate, rather than self-
1982, 1992, 2001), the researchers included measures of the ish, egotistical, aggressive, and hurtful. Openness to experience
young childrens early temperaments as potential predictors (sometimes called intellect) describes the degree to which a
of later resilience. Similarly, in the Project Competence study person explores, seeks, and attends to internal and external sen-
that is the focus of this paper (Garmezy et al., 1984; Masten sory stimulation and abstract information. Children high on this
& Tellegen, 2012), Garmezy and colleagues measured a broad trait are quick and eager to learn, perceptive, curious, creative,
range of individual differences in the children at the start of the and adaptable in the face of uncertainty, whereas children low
study. Garmezy did so because he considered individual attri- on this trait exhibit lower levels of creativity and intellectual in-
butes to be a major potential source of resilience (Garmezy, terests. This Big Five model thus includes a more complete
1985). Thus, the children in Project Competence were rated range of traits than most temperament models, while still in-
by parents, interviewers, and teachers on a wide range of indi- cluding important temperament traits (Caspi & Shiner, 2006;
vidual differences that might prove to be moderators of risk, ei- Shiner, 1998).
ther reducing or exacerbating the effects of adversity on out-
comes. The researchers included such items as turned on by
Findings on the Contributions of Temperament and
the life of the mind, kind and generous, cynical, gets upset
Personality Traits to Resilient Outcomes
easily, serious about schoolwork, colorful and expresses self
vividly, and imaginative and creative. Researchers studying Childrens personality traits are likely to shape the develop-
resilience seem to have recognized from the outset that childrens ment of resilience through a number of direct and indirect pro-
typical patterns of behavior, thought, and emotion likely shape cesses. Dozens of studies now document that childrens tem-
their competence and influence adaptation in the face of stress. perament and personality traits shape their competence and
Although researchers studying resilience recognized the po- maladaptation over time (Caspi, Roberts, & Shiner, 2005;
tential importance of childrens traits from the start, they had Caspi & Shiner, 2006; Roberts, Kuncel, Shiner, Caspi, &
relatively little guidance about what traits to measure in the Goldberg, 2007; Rothbart & Bates, 2006; Shiner & Caspi,
early days of resilience research. Over the last two decades, 2003; Zenter & Shiner, in press). Childrens traits appear to
the structure of childrens personality traits has become increas- have direct effects on academic achievement, rule-abiding
ingly well understood. The basic structure observed in children, conduct, and relationships with peers, both concurrently
adolescents, and adults is a five-factor structure (Caspi & Shi- and across time into adulthood, even when earlier compe-
ner, 2006; Shiner & DeYoung, in press); specifically, the Big tence in those domains is taken into account. For example,
Five traits are extraversion, neuroticism, conscientiousness, conscientiousness and effortful control are robust and consis-
agreeableness, and openness to experience. Extraversion tent predictors of academic achievement, and this seems to be
describes the extent to which a person actively engages the the case because these traits directly affect homework com-
world or avoids intense social experiences. Extraverted chil- pletion, classroom behavior, and regulation of interpersonal-
dren are outgoing, energetic, and expressive versus socially in- and work-related impulses (Duckworth & Allred, in press).
hibited and passive. This trait bears similarity to a temperamen- Similarly, children with high levels of positive affect engage
tal trait of surgency/positive emotionality, which taps young in less solitary activity and have more positive interactions
childrens tendencies toward high activity, a rapid approach with peers than do children low on positive affect, as long
510 R. L. Shiner and A. S. Masten

as the positive emotions are accompanied by good self-regu- childrens extraversion or positive emotionality as predictors
lation (Coplan & Bullock, in press); these behaviors seem to of childrens adjustment in studies also examining the impact
be likely mediators between positive affect and stronger of adversity. However, aspects of childrens negative emo-
friendships and popularity with peers. Thus, childrens traits tionality and effortful control have received more intensive
may have a direct impact on resilience by directly shaping study; there is good evidence that negative emotionality pre-
childrens capacity for competent functioning in the face of dicts more negative outcomes and that effortful control pre-
adversity. dicts more positive outcomes, even after controlling for the
Childrens traits are likely to have indirect effects on even- effects of adversity. These findings suggest that low negative
tual competence and resilience as well, because traits shape emotionality and high effortful control may serve as assets or
experiences of the environment (Caspi & Shiner, 2006; Len- promotive factors, with positive effects across conditions.
gua & Wachs, in press). Several indirect processes seem espe- Second, Lengua and Wachs (in press) reviewed studies in-
cially relevant to coping with adversity: childrens traits influ- vestigating whether temperament traits moderate the impact
ence the reactions and support that they evoke from others, of adversity on childrens outcomes. Again, very few studies
their interpretation of daily experiences, and their ability to have examined the moderating role of extraversion or positive
cope with adversity. First, childrens traits elicit different re- emotionality. However, a handful of studies examining di-
actions from the environment and influence others reactions, verse types of adversity and a range of outcomes have found
beginning in the first few months of life. For example, there is that negative emotionality and effortful control sometimes
some limited evidence that more emotionally positive chil- moderate the effects of adversity. Specifically, in some in-
dren evoke more support and acceptance from adults, espe- stances, high negative emotionality and low effortful control
cially parents (Bates, Schermerhorn, & Peterson, in press; interact with adversity to predict worse outcomes. Children
Werner, 1996). By evoking more support, emotionally posi- high on negative emotionality and low on effortful control ap-
tive children may garner more resources for coping with pear to be at particular risk in adverse conditions, whereas
chronic adversity. Second, traits are likely to have an impact children low on negative emotionality and high on effortful
on how youths interpret adverse life experiences. With the control appear to be buffered from the negative effects of
emergence of belief systems and expectations, childrens stress. These traits may serve as protective or vulnerability
traits may begin to influence how environmental experiences factors for children facing adversity.
are construed, thus shaping childrens effective experiences There were some significant limitations, however, to the
of the environment. A recent empirical example of such con- moderation studies reviewed by Lengua and Wachs (in press).
strual processes involves the development of depressogenic Some of the studies examined traits, adversity, and competent
cognitive styles. Childrens early tendencies toward negative outcomes simultaneously, which limits the conclusions that
emotionality interact with their negative life experiences to may be drawn regarding the role of traits in shaping outcomes
predict a negative attributional style for explaining life events over time. Of the few studies examining the prediction of
(Mezulis, Hyde, & Abramson, 2006). A child lower in negative competence longitudinally, the samples were not tracked
emotionality may therefore tend to develop a more protec- for much more than 5 years. More generally, very few studies
tive way of interpreting adverse life experiences. Third, traits have examined whether traits interact with adversity to pre-
shape childrens capacities for coping with daily stress. A re- dict resilient outcomes in adulthood. Finally, only a limited
cent meta-analysis explored the relations between personality number of traits have been examined as predictors of compe-
traits and particular coping styles in youths and adults and tence and resilience. The present study was designed to pro-
found that traits were more strongly related to coping strategies vide a more thorough investigation into whether childrens
in younger samples than older ones (Connor-Smith & Flasch- personality traits serve as promotive or protective factors in
bart, 2007). For example, the highly effective coping strategy the development of competence and resilience in adulthood.
of problem solving is associated positively with agreeableness,
openness to experience, and conscientiousness and negatively
The Present Study
with neuroticism. Children with different traits therefore may
have different sources of support, interpretive styles, and cop- In the present study, we investigated whether Big Five per-
ing strategies to draw from in times of stress. sonality traits assessed in childhood predict competence
Lengua and Wachs (in press) recently reviewed the exist- and resilience in adulthood in a normative sample of partici-
ing literature examining the links between childrens tem- pants tracked from childhood through adulthood. As noted
perament traits and their resilient outcomes. These authors above, the data for this study were drawn from the Project
examined two primary models for how childrens traits and Competence Longitudinal Study of risk and resilience. The
their outcomes may be linked. First, they reviewed studies study was initiated to investigate resilience in development,
that examined whether childrens temperament traits predict with a focus on the structure, predictors, and moderators of
their competent or adaptive outcomes, over and above the ef- competence under varying conditions of stress and adversity
fects of adversity. In other words, these studies investigated (Garmezy et al., 1984; Masten et al., 1999, 2004; Masten &
main effects models for temperament traits. Lengua and Tellegen, 2012). At the start of the study, the participants
Wachs (in press) found relatively few studies looking at were 8 to 12 years old, and their childhood personalities,
Childhood personality and resilience 511

competent functioning, and adverse experiences were mea- personality on adulthood competence (Shiner, 2000; Shiner
sured through a variety of means. The cohort was followed et al., 2003). More specifically, we expected adult academic
up by mail 7 years later. Approximately 3 years after that achievement and work competence to be predicted positively
(10 years from the initial data collection), when the cohort by childhood conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness
was on average 20 years old, during a transitional period be- and negatively by childhood neuroticism; adult rule-abiding
tween adolescence and adulthood sometimes referred to as conduct to be predicted by childhood conscientiousness and
emerging adulthood (EA; Arnett, 2000), the participants agreeableness; and friendships and romantic competence to be
and their parents completed a variety of tests and question- predicted positively by childhood extraversion and agreeable-
naires about the participants adaptive functioning. Again ness and negatively by childhood neuroticism.
after approximately 10 more years, when participants were The variable-focused analyses also allowed us to test
on average 30 years old and in young adulthood (YA), partic- whether the participants childhood traits moderated the ef-
ipants and their parents completed questionnaire packets by fects of adversity on adult outcomes; in other words, we
mail. Competence was defined for each assessment period were able to determine whether childhood traits served as pro-
in terms of success in multiple domains of age-salient devel- tective factors in high-adversity conditions. As noted pre-
opmental tasks, with multiple measures and informants. viously, relatively few studies have obtained evidence for
We chose to focus on the childrens Big Five traits as po- moderating effects, but some studies have found negative
tential predictors of resilience because these traits offer a emotionality and effortful control to moderate effects of ad-
fairly complete picture of childrens personality traits in mid- versity on some outcomes, particularly externalizing behavior
dle childhood. Previous work on Project Competence iden- (Lengua & Wachs, in press). Thus, we expected that child
tified a set of four traits in childhood and explored the links neuroticism and conscientiousness might moderate the ef-
between these traits and concurrent and EA competence (Shi- fects of adversity on some adult outcomes, particularly
ner, 2000) and between these traits and YA personality and rule-abiding versus antisocial conduct.
competence (Shiner, Masten, & Roberts, 2003). For the pres- In a second set of analyses, we took a person-centered ap-
ent study, we modified the measurement of those traits to proach to probing the links between childhood personality
bring them more in line with what is known about the Big traits and resilience (following the strategy delineated by
Five traits in childhood, which resulted in measures of extra- Masten et al., 1999, 2004). Specifically, we examined the
version, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness to childhood personalities of three sets of individuals classi-
experience. We added a new measure of neuroticism as well. fied by their EA outcomes: competent (average or better com-
Because of the comprehensive and long-term nature of the petence in EA, low adversity), resilient (average or better
Project Competence study, we were able to address the ques- competence in EA, high adversity), and maladaptive (below
tion of whether childrens personality traits predict whether average competence in EA, high adversity). Those in the
they are able to achieve competent outcomes in adulthood competent and resilient groups had similar outcomes in EA
even after facing chronic adversity earlier in life. We ad- (good functioning across major developmental tasks domains
dressed this fundamentally important question about resili- at the time of assessment) but different histories (low vs. high
ence through three sets of analyses. In the first set of analyses, adversity). The resilient and maladaptive groups had similar
we adopted a variable-focused approach. We tested whether histories of very high adversity but very different EA out-
chronic adversity in childhood and adolescence, childhood comes (good vs. poor adaptation). We then examined the
personality traits, and their interaction predicted change ver- childhood personalities of those three groups, as defined by
sus continuity in competence from childhood through EA and the same chronic adversity scores in childhood and adoles-
to YA. For EA at around age 20, we considered three salient cence, but using YA outcomes instead of EA outcomes to de-
developmental task domains of competence: academic attain- fine competence. These person-centered analyses took into
ment, rule-abiding versus antisocial conduct, and social com- account configural patterns of resilience, meaning that we
petence in friendships with peers. In YA at around age 30, we were able to explore whether there was anything distinctive
looked at the same domains, along with additional domains about the childhood personalities of those who were able to
that become salient in early adulthood: work competence, com- do well across multiple domains of adult competence despite
petence in romantic relationships, and parenting competence their earlier exposure to adversity. Prior Project Competence
(for participants who had become parents). Through these anal- analyses of these configural groups have found that, in most
yses, we were able to test whether the participants exposure to instances, the resilient and competent groups have similar re-
adversity and childhood traits had main effects on their eventual sources (e.g., socioeconomic status, parenting quality, IQ),
competent outcomes. Positive main effects of childhood traits and much better resources than the maladaptive group (Mas-
on later competence, after controlling for the main effects of ten et al., 1999, 2004). We therefore predicted that, similarly,
chronic adversity, would suggest that personality traits serve the participants classified as resilient and competent in EA or
as promotive factors for adult competence, meaning that such YA would have had higher levels of positive personality traits
traits have positive effects on competent outcomes in both in childhood than those classified as maladaptive in EA or
high- and low-adversity conditions. Based on previous research YA. Specifically, we expected that the resilient and compe-
in this sample, we expected to find main effects of childhood tent groups would have had higher levels of conscientious-
512 R. L. Shiner and A. S. Masten

ness, agreeableness, and openness to experience and lower 90%, respectively. This study focuses on the subsample of
levels of neuroticism in childhood than the maladaptive group, 176 participants (71 males, 105 females) for whom there
because previous research has linked these traits with a number were complete data on childhood personality traits, child-
of different positive outcomes (Caspi & Shiner, 2006; Rothbart hood/adolescent adversity, and adult competence. Within
& Bates, 2006; Shiner & Masten, 2008). We did not expect the this subsample, 25.6% were ethnic minority (16.5% African
groups to differ in extraversion because, although this trait is American, 3.4% Chicano, 4.6% American Indian, and 1.1%
associated with good social outcomes, it is sometimes associ- Asian). Compared to the group of participants missing key
ated with higher levels of conduct problems (Caspi & Shiner, data or lost to attrition, the subsample in this study was
2006; Lengua & Wachs, in press). slightly more conscientious, F (1, 195) 4.17, p .043,
In a third set of analyses, we explored whether there was M 0.04 for subsample versus M 20.35 for missing par-
anything notable about the childhood personality traits of ticipants, and less extraverted, F (1, 203) 7.50, p .007, M
those individuals who switched from the maladaptive cate- 20.05 for subsample versus M 0.33 for missing partic-
gory in EA to the competent category in YA; we were inter- ipants, in childhood. The subsample did not differ from the
ested in whether this small group differed, first, from those missing participants on other childhood personality traits,
who remained competent or resilient from EA to YA, and, chronic adversity scores, EA or YA competence, sex, minor-
second, from those who remained maladaptive from EA to ity status, or socioeconomic status.
YA. Previous longitudinal studies of competence and resili- Extensive information on the participants and their life ex-
ence have sometimes identified a group of late bloomers, periences was collected during each phase of the study. Dur-
who achieve positive outcomes later in adulthood, after strug- ing childhood, participants parents or guardians (mostly
gles earlier in adolescence or emerging adulthood (Masten, mothers) were interviewed at home, and the children were in-
Obradovic, & Burt, 2006; Rutter, 1987). These later transfor- terviewed twice, typically at school. Classroom peer nomina-
mations have been predicted by new opportunities in early tions were obtained using the Revised Class Play (Masten,
adulthood, such as military service, good marriages, or Morison, & Pellegrini, 1985; Morison & Masten, 1991),
school opportunities (Werner & Smith, 1992). Earlier work and parents also completed questionnaires. Several other
on Project Competence identified a small group of partici- measures of child functioning were obtained, including
pants who switched from maladaptive in EA to competent school records, an individual standardized achievement test,
in YA (Masten et al., 2004) and found that this group at the and a teacher questionnaire assessing classroom behavior.
time of the EA assessment showed higher planfulness/future During the assessment 7 years later in adolescence (ages
motivation, autonomy, and adult support outside the family 1419), participants and their parents completed parallel
than the group who would prove to be consistently maladap- packets of questionnaires, which included assessments of ad-
tive. Although our analyses looking at the childhood person- verse life events that had occurred during the interval between
alities of this late resilient group were largely exploratory, we the first and second assessments. During the 10-year follow-
expected that they may have differed from the consistently up during EA, when the cohort was 1723 (M 19.8 years),
maladaptive group in higher childhood conscientiousness participants and their parents underwent interviews and com-
or openness, given that these traits may be precursors to plan- pleted a wide variety of questionnaires. The cohort was recon-
fulness/future motivation and autonomy. tacted 10 years later (20-year follow-up) during YA (ages 28
34; M 30.8). This follow-up was designed to be conducted
by mail, and again both participants and their parents com-
pleted an extensive set of questionnaires.
Sample and procedures
Participants were drawn from a sample of 205 children (91
boys, 114 girls) who have participated with their families in Childhood personality (age 10). Measures of four personality
the 20-year Project Competence study of competence and re- traits in childhood were derived previously in this sample:
silience (Garmezy & Tellegen, 1984; Masten et al., 1995, mastery motivation, academic conscientiousness, surgency,
1999, 2004). Families were recruited from two Minneapolis and agreeableness (Shiner, 2000). Each of these higher order
elementary schools when the children were 8 to 12 years traits was measured through the combination of lower order
old (M 9.96) and in third to sixth grade. The participants scales from the parent interview, the child interview, and/or
schools were located in a diverse but generally lower- to mid- the teacher report from the Devereux Elementary School Rat-
dle-class area of Minneapolis; socioeconomic status among ing Scale (Spivack & Swift, 1967). Reliability information is
the childrens families ranged from 7 to 92.3 on the 100-point not available for the parent interview ratings used to measure
Duncan Socioeconomic Index (Hauser & Featherman, 1977), personality in this study; however, the interviewers did not
with a sample mean of 43 (the equivalent of skilled labor or have to make many inferences in coding the parents re-
clerical positions). After the initial study phase, participants sponses, and in many cases the interviewers read parents
and their families were subsequently followed up after 7, the possible options for answering questions. For the child in-
10, and 20 years, with retention rates of 88%, 98%, and terview, two advanced graduate students made ratings of the
Childhood personality and resilience 513

items for a subset of the cases; for the scales created from the predispositions toward experiencing and expressing negative
child interview, the two raters obtained a mean intraclass cor- emotions. Childhood neuroticism scales often include a broader
relation of 0.78, indicating good reliability. The Devereux range of negative emotions than adult neuroticism scales, which
teacher questionnaire has previously been established as a re- focus more narrowly on internalizing negative emotions (Shiner
liable and valid measure of childrens classroom behavior & DeYoung, in press). The present scale was designed to reflect
(Finkelman, Ferrarese, & Garmezy, 1989; Kendall, Pelle- the broader range of negative emotions typically included in
grini, & Urbain, 1981). other childhood neuroticism scales. Specifically, during the
As noted in the introductory section, in the decade since childhood assessment, parents completed a Behavior Rating
these personality scales were created, it has become increas- Scale questionnaire on a 3-point scale that assessed their chil-
ingly clear that the structure of childhood personality traits drens behavior, including a wide range of negative emotions,
fits a five-factor model akin to the Big Five personality trait such as worries, gets upset easily when things go wrong,
model observed in adulthood (Shiner & DeYoung, in press). depressed and unhappy, complains no one loves me,
Thus, for the present study, two of the childhood personality suddenly changes from happy to sad, and inferiority feel-
traitssurgency and mastery motivationwere modified to ings. The 11 questionnaire items measuring negative emotions
bring them more in line with Big Five measures of extraver- were averaged, and that score was standardized to create a neu-
sion and openness to experience, respectively. Specifically, roticism subscale with a resulting alpha value of 0.84.
the components labeled poor comprehension/disattention In Table 1, we present descriptions of the Big Five child-
(from the teacher ratings) and expressiveness (from the child hood personality traits, including the components of each and
interview) were dropped from the Surgency Scale, leaving sample items.
only the component that is a clear marker of extraversion: ex-
traversion from the parent interview. Likewise, a component Chronic adversity in childhood and adolescence. A thorough
labeled performance anxiety (from the teacher ratings) was description of the procedures used to develop comprehensive
dropped from the Mastery Motivation Scale, leaving only measures of chronic adversity is offered in Gest, Reed, and
the two components that strongly resemble other childhood Masten (1999). More briefly, at each assessment, detailed in-
measures of openness to experience: zestful engagement in formation from multiple informants was gathered on negative
activities from the parent interview and achievement motiva- life events and adversities experienced by the participants, for
tion from the childhood interview. The two personality scales example, through structured life events interviews and Life
of agreeableness and academic conscientiousness were re- Event Questionnaires (Gest et al., 1999). After the 10-year
tained in their prior form because they already mapped well follow-up, all of the information on adverse life experiences
onto the relevant Big Five traits, but the Academic Conscien- was culled, so that life charts could be generated for each
tiousness Scale is simply called conscientiousness for the participant detailing negative life events experienced during
sake of simplicity. particular periods of his or her lifetime. The three periods in-
Finally, to complete the measurement of the Big Five traits, cluded birth to the childhood assessment; the 7 years from the
we added a fifth scale to assess the childrens neuroticism, or childhood assessment to the adolescent assessment; and the 3

Table 1. Big Five childhood personality traits: Components and sample items

Childhood Personality Traits Sample Items

Extraversion (parent interview) Outgoing with other children; leader rather than
Neuroticism (parent questionnaire) Worries; gets upset easily when things go wrong
Academic conscientiousness (parent interview) Serious about schoolwork; prompt in completing
School carelessnessreversed (teacher questionnaire) Rushes in his or her work and makes unnecessary
mistakes; quick to say assigned work is too hard
Friendly compliance (parent interview) Accepts criticism; considerate with other children
Agreeableness (child interview) Kind and generous; selfishreversed
Openness to experience
Zestful engagement in activities (parent interview) Enthusiastic and engrossed in activities; imaginative
or creative
Achievement motivation (child interview) Considers academic achievement very important;
intellecterturned on by the life of the mind

Note: The teacher questionnaire items are from the Devereux Elementary School Behavior Rating Scale Manual by G. Spivak and M. Swift,
1967, Devon, PA: Devereux Foundation. Copyright 1967 by the Devereux Foundation. Reprinted with permission.
514 R. L. Shiner and A. S. Masten

years from the adolescent assessment to the EA assessment. Childhood (age 10). A detailed description of the measures
Cumulative negative experiences that were independent of used to assess childhood academic achievement, rule-abiding
the participants behavior were printed onto life charts for conduct, and social competence is provided elsewhere (Shi-
each of these time periods, and independent judges with ner, 2000). The childhood competence indictors used in
no knowledge of participants competence or resources this study were somewhat different from those used in most
then rated these life charts. Judges made the adversity ratings Project Competence studies (e.g., Masten et al., 1999,
on a 7-point scale that corresponded closely to the Severity 2004) because the indicators were modified to minimize over-
of Psychological Stressor Scale used at the time for Axis IV lap with the measures used to assess child personality. The
of the diagnostic system of the American Psychiatric Asso- measure of academic achievement (a 0.96) tapped (a) the
ciation (1987). In this system, the ratings ranged from a 1 in- childs grade point average in academic subjects as reported
dicating minimal adversity (only common, routine events on the school record and (b) performance on the Peabody In-
such as a friends move, or isolated events, such as a sibling dividual Achievement Test (Dunn & Markwardt, 1970). The
jailed overnight) to a 7 indicating catastrophic adversity (se- measure of rule-abiding versus antisocial conduct provided
vere acute and/or chronic stressors such as marital violence an index of the extent to which a child followed rules rather
or loss of both parents). The two ratings used in this study than engaging in rule-breaking or antisocial behavior in the
were the one spanning birth to the childhood assessment home, school, and broader community. The measure (a
and the one spanning from the childhood to the adolescent 0.72) included both peer nominations of disruptive behavior
assessment 7 years later. Both ratings were rated reliably (in- and parent report of six disruptive behaviors. The social com-
traclass correlation coefficients 0.82 and 0.85, respec- petence measure (a 0.62) assessed the childs social accep-
tively), and the scores (r .62) were averaged to create a tance with peers through peer nominations on seven aspects
composite measure of chronic adversity experienced over of positive social functioning and through (reversed) peer
the course of childhood and adolescence. The average levels nominations on three aspects of social problems.
of adversity exposure during these two periods were 4.97
(SD 1.47) for birth to childhood and 5.34 (SD 1.15) EA (age 20; 10-year follow-up). A detailed description of the
for childhood to adolescence. This indicates that the mean measures used to assess EA academic attainment, rule-abiding
level of cumulative adversity during both periods fell in conduct, and social competence is provided elsewhere (Masten
the severe range on the DSM scale (which was designed et al., 1999). Academic attainment was defined in terms of the
for a shorter time interval). Cumulatively the average was level and quality of education attained to date and was a com-
approximately 5, indicating exposure to multiple or chronic posite of four variables (a 0.90): clinical ratings of achieve-
events, such as interparental conflict, divorce, or stressful ment based on adolescent self-report Status Questionnaires,
family illnesses. parallel but independent ratings based on parent Status Ques-
tionnaire reports, an interviewers ratings of grades and attain-
Competent adaptive functioning. Extensive prior work with ment based on the interview with the adolescent, and a parent
the Project Competence data set established robust indicators report of how far the participant had gone in school. Rule-abid-
of participants competent functioning in key age-salient de- ing conduct was defined in terms of a track record of following
velopmental tasks at each assessment point. In childhood and or breaking societal norms for conduct, including legal and il-
EA, three competence domains were defined as age salient: legal behavior and was a composite of five variables (a
academic achievement, social competence, and rule-abiding 0.79): parallel adolescent and parent questionnaire ratings of
versus rule-breaking conduct. By YA, three new domains be- the seriousness of the adolescents involvement with the law,
came salient as well: work, romantic relationships, and par- a five-item factor-based scale from the adolescent interview,
enting (for those who became parents). These had emerged a three-item factor-based scale from the parent interview, and
earlier, but were viewed as important, additional salient do- a two-item scale taken from a parent-report version of Harters
mains of competence in YA. The multidimensionality of Competence Rating Scales modified for young adults (Harter,
competence in childhood, EA, and YA has been confirmed 1986; Neemann & Harter, 1986). The social competence mea-
repeatedly in structural equation models in the course of ana- sure primarily tapped the extent to which the participant had
lyzing the continuity and cross-domain cascades in compe- close friends and an active social life. The eight indicators
tence over time in this study (e.g., Masten et al., 1995, were the following (a 0.86): parallel adolescent and parent
2005; Masten, Desjardins, McCormick, Kuo, & Long, questionnaire ratings of the extent to which the adolescent
2010; Obradovic, Burt, & Masten, 2010). Indicators of these had a positive, active social life; parallel adolescent and parent
major domains have also been composited for linear regres- questionnaire ratings of the extent to which the adolescent had
sion analyses (e.g., Masten et al., 1999, 2004; Roisman close, confiding relationships; an eight-item composite from
et al., 2004). For each domain of competence for the present the adolescent interview; a two-item composite from the parent
study, the participants standardized scores on two to eight re- interview; two items tapping general quality of social life taken
liable indicators were averaged to create a composite compe- from the parent report Competence Rating Scales; and two
tence score. More than one indicator was used for each do- items tapping close friendships taken from the parent report
main of competence to increase reliability and validity. Competence Rating Scales.
Childhood personality and resilience 515

YA (age 30; 20-year followup). The six YA competence do- well they were doing as a parent overall; and a comparable
mains were assessed by combining reports from three parent composite.
sources: the participants themselves, the parents, and clinical
ratings provided by two independent judges who were clin-
ical psychologists. Academic attainment and rule-abiding
conduct were conceptualized in a similar manner in EA and To examine the role of childhood personality in the develop-
YA. Social competence was judged on evidence of having ment of resilience, we conducted two sets of analyses: vari-
a close, confiding friendship. Work competence was defined able focused and person focused. First, in the variable-fo-
as successful performance in paid work, evidenced by a clear cused analyses, we conducted a series of regressions to test
track record of reliably holding and successfully executing whether childhood personality traits, chronic adversity, and
the responsibilities of paid positions. Success in romantic their interaction predicted change and continuity in compe-
competence was conceptualized in terms of having engaged tence from childhood to EA and YA, 10 and 20 years later,
in a close and positive reciprocal relationship with a romantic respectively. Second, in the person-focused analyses, we
partner for more than a brief period of time. Parenting com- used classification criteria to create groups of competent, re-
petence, or effectiveness in the role of parenting, was assessed silient, and maladaptive participants in EA and YA to deter-
for each participant who was a parent by YA. mine whether these groups differed in their childhood person-
The indicators used to assess the participants level and ality traits.
quality of academic attainment (a 0.93) included a clinical
rating of educational success, and parallel participant and par-
Variable-focused analyses
ent composites of two status questionnaire items tapping level
of education and educational success. Work competence (a Correlations among the childhood variables and between the
0.72) combined a composite of two clinical ratings of holding childhood predictor variables and adult competent out-
a job successfully and doing well in work; a composite of two comes. We first obtained the correlations among the child-
participant status questionnaire items tapping job responsibil- hood variables: the Big Five personality traits, the control
ities and doing well in work; and a composite of two parent variables of sex and age, chronic adversity in childhood/ado-
status questionnaire items parallel to those from the partici- lescence, and competence. These correlations are shown in
pant. Rule-abiding versus antisocial conduct (a 0.86) com- Table 2. These correlations reveal several important patterns.
bined a composite of two clinical ratings of trouble with the First, agreeableness was positively correlated with conscien-
law and general rule-abiding conduct; a participant composite tiousness and negatively correlated with neuroticism, but no
consisting of one global law-abiding item from the status other traits were significantly intercorrelated. Second, sex
questionnaire, eight behavioral/life events items from the sta- was correlated with conscientiousness (girls had higher con-
tus questionnaire and Competence Rating Scales (e.g., history scientiousness in childhood) but no other childhood vari-
of arrests, convictions, and parole, and time in prison), and ables, and age was correlated with academic achievement
the Delinquency subscale from the Young Adult Self-Report (older children had modestly worse academic achievement)
(Achenbach, 1997); and a parent composite that was parallel but no other childhood variables. Third, chronic adversity
to the participant composite except that it included the Delin- (life experiences judged to be independent of child behavior)
quency subscale from the Young Adult Behavior Checklist was modestly negatively correlated with conscientiousness,
instead of from the self-report checklist (Achenbach, 1997). agreeableness, and openness to experience and modestly pos-
Social competence (a 0.67) combined a clinical rating itively correlated with neuroticism. Fourth, childhood com-
of friendship quality; a participant composite of five partici- petence showed a number of associations with concurrent
pant status questionnaire items tapping friendship quality personality traits. Academic achievement was associated
and two self-report Competence Rating Scale items tapping modestly with extraversion and conscientiousness and
close friendships; and a parent composite of a parent status strongly with openness. Rule-abiding versus antisocial con-
questionnaire item tapping friendship quality and two par- duct was moderately negatively correlated with extraversion
ent-report Competence Rating Scale items tapping close and neuroticism and moderately positively correlated with
friendships. Romantic competence (a 0.80) combined a conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness. Social com-
composite of two clinical ratings of involvement in and qual- petence with peers showed modest to moderate associations
ity of romantic relationships; a participant composite of three with all the traits: a negative association with neuroticism
status questionnaire items tapping being close and getting and a positive association with all the other traits. Thus, all
along with the romantic partner and three items from the of the childhood personality traits already showed significant
Competence Rating Scales; and a parallel parent composite. relationships with competence in childhood.
Parenting competence (a 0.81) combined the average of We next computed the correlations between all of the
two clinical ratings of involvement in parenting and global childhood predictor variables (the Big Five personality traits,
ratings of how well participants were doing as parents; a par- the control variables of sex and age, chronic adversity in
ticipant composite of two status questionnaire items on how childhood/adolescence, and childhood competence in the do-
well they were carrying out the job of child care and how mains of academic achievement, rule-abiding conduct, and
516 R. L. Shiner and A. S. Masten

Table 2. Correlations among the childhood variables: Big Five personality traits, sex and age, childhood/adolescent
adversity, and competence

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Childhood personality traits

1. Extraversion
2. Neuroticism 2.13
3. Conscientiousness 2.02 2.13
4. Agreeableness 2.01 2.45*** .23**
5. Openness .06 2.14 .10 .02
Control variables
6. Sex 2.01 2.09 .38*** .08 2.12
7. Age 2.12 .03 .12 2.03 2.06 2.05
8. Childhood/adolescent
adversity 2.06 .23** 2.15* 2.18* 2.16* 2.03 .04
Childhood competence
9. Academic achievement .19* 2.08 .16* .02 .51*** 2.12 2.18* 2.12
10. Rule-abiding conduct 2.23** 2.27*** .42*** .43*** .25*** .03 .00 2.18* .15*
11. Social competence .25*** 2.24*** .33*** .18* .23** .09 .13 2.20** .35*** .26***

*p , .05. **p , .01. ***p , .001.

social competence) and the competence variables in EA and atively related to social competence in YA but no other out-
YA; the correlations are presented in Table 3. The results comes. Participants history of exposure to chronic adversity
demonstrate that all of the competence outcomes in EA and in childhood and adolescence was modestly negatively re-
YA were predicted by at least one and often by more than lated to all of the EA competence outcomes and to academic
one childhood personality trait. Sex was related to rule-abid- attainment and rule-abiding conduct in YA. Finally, aca-
ing conduct in EA and YA, such that females developed demic attainment in EA and YA, rule-abiding conduct in
higher levels of rule-abiding conduct. Age was modestly neg- EA and YA, and social competence in EA were all moder-

Table 3. Correlations between childhood predictor variables and emerging adult and young adult competent outcomes
10 and 20 years later

Emerging Adult Competence 10 Years Later Young Adult Competence 20 Years Later

Rule- Rule-
Academic Abiding Social Academic Abiding Social Work Romantic
Attainment Conduct Competence Attainment Conduct Competence Competence Competence

Childhood personality traits

Extraversion 2.06 2.14 .37*** .05 .01 .16* .14 .19**
Neuroticism 2.23*** 2.26*** 2.16* 2.12 2.11 2.09 2.17* 2.15*
Conscientiousness .39*** .35*** .02 .31*** .23** .05 .14 .00
Agreeableness .23** .40*** .22** .19** .25*** .20** .15* .06
Openness .36*** .28*** .25*** .37*** .18* .12 .22** .09
Control variables
Sex .11 .24** 2.02 .03 .17* .19 2.06 .02
Age 2.01 2.05 2.14 2.09 2.03 2.02 2.07 2.16*
adolescent adversity 2.21** 2.24** 2.18* 2.23** 2.23** 2.03 2.02 2.06
Childhood competence
achievement .45*** .17* .26*** .52*** .15* .19** .28*** .21**
conduct .34*** .52*** .08 .24** .29*** .04 .13 2.04
Social competence .25*** .17* .31*** .25*** .15* .12 .22** .24**

*p  .05. **p  .01. ***p  .001.

Childhood personality and resilience 517

ately to strongly predicted by childhood competence in the (B 20.14 for EA, B 20.18 for YA). In addition, EA con-
same domains, but were predicted by other domains of child- duct was positively predicted by childhood agreeableness and
hood competence as well. Work competence and romantic openness (agreeableness: B 0.19; openness: B 0.17), but
competence in YA were both predicted by childhood aca- YA conduct was not predicted by any of the childhood traits.
demic achievement and social competence. The interaction of agreeableness and chronic adversity added
to the prediction of EA conduct (B 0.13); the interaction is
Regressions. We investigated whether chronic adversity, plotted in Figure 1 for low and high adversity (1 SD above and
childhood personality traits, and their interaction predicted below the mean) and low and high agreeableness (1 SD above
EA and YA competence, after taking into account childhood and below the mean). At high levels of childhood agreeable-
competence in the same or the most conceptually related do- ness, adversity did not predict EA rule-abiding conduct. In
main for aspects of competence that were not salient in child- contrast, at low levels of childhood agreeableness, conduct
hood (e.g., academic was controlled for work and social for was much worse at outcome with a high adversity history.
romantic competence). In other words, we examined whether Thus, the combination of low childhood agreeableness and
chronic adversity, childhood traits, and their interaction pre- high chronic adversity predicted a heightened risk for conduct
dicted interindividual change in competence from childhood problems in EA, consistent with agreeableness functioning as
through EA and YA. We addressed this question by conducting a protective factor or its lack functioning as a vulnerability, or
separate hierarchical multiple regressions predicting each of the both. None of the other interactions of childhood traits and
three EA and five YA competence variables in a series of steps. adversity added to the prediction of EA or YA conduct.
In Step 1, we entered the scores for the most relevant childhood Findings for predictors of social competence varied some-
competence domain. In Steps 2 and 3, the control variables of what for EA and YA. For EA, social competence was posi-
sex and age, respectively, were entered. In Step 4, scores for tively predicted by childhood social competence (B
chronic adversity in childhood and adolescence were entered 0.31), negatively predicted by age (B 20.19), and posi-
to examine the potential main effect of adversity on later com- tively predicted by extraversion, agreeableness, and openness
petence. In Step 5, we entered a single Big Five childhood trait (B 0.28 for extraversion and B 0.16 for agreeableness and
to determine whether that trait predicted later competence after openness). Neither sex nor chronic adversity added to the pre-
taking chronic adversity into account. Finally, in Step 6, we en- diction of EA social competence. Only in the case of child-
tered the interaction of the specific Big Five childhood trait and hood conscientiousness did the interaction of a childhood trait
chronic adversity; this final step enabled us to determine and chronic adversity add to the prediction of EA social com-
whether the effects of adversity on EA and YA adaptation var- petence (B 0.15); the interaction is plotted in Figure 2 for
ied depending on the participants childhood personality traits. high and low adversity (1 SD above and below the mean)
The results are summarized in Table 4, Table 5, and Table 6 and low and high conscientiousness (1 SD above and below
and indicate the increment in R2 for each step of the regressions the mean). Generally, a history of adversity was negatively re-
and the significance of the F test for that step. The results pre- lated to social competence outcomes in EA, but this associa-
sented in this section report the beta weights for variables at tion was stronger for those who were less conscientious in
their entry. childhood. When adversity exposure was low (more benign
The results of the regressions predicting EA and YA aca- life conditions), less conscientious children had better social
demic attainment, rule-abiding conduct, and social compe- competence outcomes in EA, but when adversity exposure
tence are shown in Tables 4 and 5, respectively. Academic at- was high, the less conscientious did not show an advantage
tainment in EA and YA was predicted positively by in this domain. This finding was surprising because it sug-
childhood academic achievement (B 0.45 for EA, B gested positive outcomes for low childhood conscientious-
0.52 for YA); negatively by chronic adversity (B 20.16 ness in this domain when there was a history of low adversity
for EA, B 20.17 for YA); and positively by childhood con- exposure. Ten years later, social competence in YA was pre-
scientiousness and agreeableness (conscientiousness: B dicted only by sex (females had better quality YA friend-
0.29 for EA, B 0.23 for YA; agreeableness: B 0.19 for ships) and by childhood agreeableness (B 0.17), but not
EA, B 0.15 for YA). In addition, for EA academic attain- by childhood social competence, age, any of the other child-
ment, sex was a significant predictor (females had higher at- hood traits, chronic adversity, or the interaction of the child-
tainment), extraversion was a negative predictor (B 20.16), hood traits and adversity.
neuroticism was a negative predictor (B 20.18), and open- The results of the regressions predicting YA work compe-
ness was a positive predictor (B 0.17). The interaction of tence and romantic competence are shown in Table 6. YA
chronic adversity and the childhood traits did not add to the work competence was predicted positively by childhood aca-
prediction of academic attainment once the main effects of demic achievement (B 0.28), positively by childhood
both variables were accounted for. conscientiousness (B 0.15) and agreeableness (B 0.15),
Rule-abiding conduct in EA and YA was positively pre- and negatively by childhood neuroticism (B 20.16). YA
dicted by childhood conduct (B 0.52 for EA, B 0.29 romantic competence was predicted positively by childhood
for YA); predicted by sex (females had higher rule-abiding social competence (B 0.24) and negatively by age (B
conduct at both times); and negatively predicted by adversity 20.19), but not by any of the other predictors.
Table 4. Hierarchical multiple regressions relating childhood Big Five personality traits to competence 10 years later in emerging adulthood

Competence 10 Years Later in Emerging Adulthood

Academic Attainment Rule-Abiding Conduct Social Competence

1. Childhood competence in same domain .21*** .28*** .09***

2. Sex .03* .04** .00
3. Age .00 .00 .04**
4. Adversity in childhood/adolescence .02* .02* .01
5. Childhood traits E N C A O E N C A O E N C A O
.03** .02* .06*** .04** .02* .00 .01 .00 .03** .03** .07*** .00 .00 .02* .02*
6. Trait Adversity interaction .01 .01 .01 .00 .00 .00 .00 .01 .02* .00 .01 .00 .02* .00 .00
Total R2 .30*** .29*** .33*** .30*** .28*** .34*** .35*** .35*** .39*** .37*** .22*** .14*** .16*** .16*** .16***

Note: E, extraversion; N, neuroticism; C, conscientiousness; A, agreeableness; O, openness to experience. The R2 change and the significance of the increment are shown at each step.
*p  .05. **p  .01. ***p  .001.

Table 5. Hierarchical multiple regressions relating childhood Big Five personality traits to competence in the domains of academic attainment, conduct, and social
competence 20 years later in young adulthood

Competence 20 Years Later in Young Adulthood

Academic Attainment Rule-Abiding Conduct Social Competence

1. Childhood competence in same domain .27*** .08*** .02

2. Sex .00 .02* .03*
3. Age .00 .00 .00
4. Adversity in childhood/adolescence .03** .03** .01
5. Childhood traits E N C A O E N C A O E N C A O
.00 .00 .04*** .02* .01 .00 .00 .00 .01 .01 .01 .00 .00 .03* .02
6. Trait Adversity interaction .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00
Total R2 .30*** .30*** .34*** .32*** .31*** .13*** .13*** .13*** .14*** .14*** .07 .06 .06 .09* .08

Note: E, extraversion; N, neuroticism; C, conscientiousness; A, agreeableness; O, openness to experience. The R2 change and the significance of the increment are shown at each step.
*p  .05. **p  .01. ***p  .001.
Childhood personality and resilience 519

Table 6. Hierarchical multiple regressions relating childhood Big Five personality traits to work and romantic competence
20 years later in young adulthood

Competence 20 Years Later in Young Adulthood

Work Competence Romantic Competence

(Academic achievement) (Social competence)

1. Childhood competence in related domain .08*** .06**
2. Sex .00 .00
3. Age .00 .04**
4. Adversity in childhood/adolescence .00 .00
5. Childhood traits E N C A O E N C A O
.00 .03* .02* .02* .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00
6. Trait Adversity interaction .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00
Total R2 .08* .11** .10** .10** .08* .10* .10* .10* .10* .10*

Note: E, extraversion; N, neuroticism; C, conscientiousness; A, agreeableness; O, openness to experience. The R2 change and the significance of the increment
are shown at each step.
*p  .05. **p  .01. ***p  .001.

The overall pattern of findings from the regressions sug- traits in which such traits serve as promotive factors across
gests several conclusions. Chronic childhood and adolescent levels of adversity. Finally, the interaction of childhood traits
adversity predicted more negative EA and YA outcomes in and chronic adversity did not add to the prediction of EA
the domains of academic attainment and rule-abiding conduct, and YA adaptive outcomes, except in two instances, once
even after taking into account earlier competence in the same the main effects of chronic adversity and childhood personality
domains. However, chronic adversity did not add to the predic- were taken into account. Thus, the effects of childhood traits
tion of EA and YA social competence, nor to the prediction of on later outcomes did not vary in most instances by the partic-
YA work and romantic competence. Consistent with previous ipants exposure to cumulative adversity experiences, at least
findings, childhood personality traits predicted multiple do- for adversity that arose independent from child behavior.
mains of adaptive competence outcomes in EA and YA (Shi-
ner, 2000; Shiner et al., 2003), and the current regressions
Person-focused analyses
demonstrated that this was true even after controlling for par-
ticipants history of chronic adversity. These findings provide Comparison of EA and YA competent, resilient, and mal-
support for a main effects model of childhood personality adaptive groups on childhood personality traits. We under-

Figure 1. The interaction effect of childhood/adolescent adversity and child- Figure 2. The interaction effect of childhood/adolescent adversity and child-
hood agreeableness in the prediction of rule-abiding conduct in early adult- hood conscientiousness in the prediction of social competence in early adult-
hood (EA). [A color version of this figure can be viewed online at http:// hood (EA). [A color version of this figure can be viewed online at http://]]
520 R. L. Shiner and A. S. Masten

took person-focused analyses to provide a complementary per- an especially important domain of competence for those indi-
spective on the contributions of childhood personality to com- viduals who have become parents. Thus, in YA participants
petent EA and YA functioning in the face of adversity. These were considered adequate in competence if they scored higher
analyses looked at the childhood traits of participants with par- than 0.5 SD below the sample mean on four YA competence
ticular configurations of adversity exposure and competent EA indicators (i.e., z scores . 20.5) and low in competence if
and YA functioning across multiple domains. Participants were they fell more than 0.5 SD below the mean on at least three
classified in EA into groups based on participants EA compe- YA competence indicators (i.e., z scores , 20.5). Parents
tent outcomes and history of chronic adversity in childhood were required to score in the adequate range on parenting
and adolescence. Three groups of individuals were identified: competence to be considered adequate in competence overall.
competent (adequate competence, low adversity), resilient Using these criteria for adversity and competent outcomes, in
(adequate competence, high adversity), and maladaptive (low EA 27 competent, 36 resilient, and 25 maladaptive partici-
competence, high adversity). Following procedures used in pants were identified, and in YA 34 competent, 49 resilient,
Masten et al. (2004) for YA, participants were reclassified in and 21 maladaptive participants were identified. A number
YA into competent, resilient, and maladaptive groups, this of participants were not assigned to any group because they
time based on their YA competent outcomes and the same did not meet the criteria for the high and low adversity groups
measure of chronic adversity in childhood and adolescence. and/or they did not meet the criteria for the adequate and low
There were too few participants in the highly vulnerable cell competence groups.
(low competence, low adversity) in EA and YA to include Once the groups were identified, we turned to the question
that cell in the analyses. Although many participants remained of whether the competent, resilient, and maladaptive groups
classified in the same group in EA and YA, some participants identified in EA and YA differed in their childhood person-
switched groups because those participants adaptive function- ality traits. First, a series of one-way analyses of variance
ing changed from EA to YA. (ANOVAs) was conducted to compare the three EA groups
The competent, resilient, and maladaptive groups were and then the three YA groups on their average levels of the
identified during EA and YA by using cut scores on adversity Big Five traits in childhood. In the cases in which the F values
and competence. High adversity was defined in both EA and indicated significant differences among the groups on a child-
YA by ratings of severe to catastrophic adversity (5.0) in hood trait, a post hoc least significant difference test was
two periods: from birth through the childhood assessment used to pinpoint which groups significantly differed from an-
and from the childhood assessment through the adolescent as- other. The results of the ANOVAs and post hoc tests are pre-
sessment 7 years later. Low adversity was defined as ratings sented in Table 7. A very similar pattern of results was ob-
below 5.0 throughout childhood and adolescence. These tained for both the EA and YA groups. The competent,
cut points yielded a high adversity group that averaged above resilient, and maladaptive groups in EA and YA did not differ
a 6 on the 7-point scale. These high adversity scores translated on childhood extraversion. However, the groups in EA and
into a childhood and adolescent history of many serious YA differed on all of the other Big Five childhood traits. In
events (e.g., divorce, financial crises), multiple traumatic ex- all cases except for one, the competent and resilient groups
periences (e.g., death of parents, assault), or chronic severe did not differ from each other but did differ from the mal-
stressors (e.g., living with a violent alcoholic parent in adaptive group. Specifically, for both EA and YA outcomes,
chronic poverty). the competent and resilient groups exhibited higher agree-
Although high and low adversity was defined the same ableness and openness to experience and lower neuroticism
way in EA and YA, the definitions of adequate and low com- in childhood than did the maladaptive group. Similarly, for
petence differed for EA and YA outcomes. In EA, compe- EA outcomes, the competent and resilient groups exhibited
tence was defined using cut scores for the three major compe- higher conscientiousness in childhood than did the maladap-
tent outcomes (academic attainment, rule abiding conduct, tive group. A somewhat different pattern emerged for child-
and social competence). Participants were classified as hav- hood conscientiousness among the YA groups; in this case
ing adequate competence if they scored higher than 0.5 SD only, the competent participants demonstrated higher child-
below the sample mean on all three competence indicators hood conscientiousness than the resilient group, which in
in EA (i.e., z scores . 20.5). In contrast, participants were turn demonstrated higher childhood conscientiousness than
classified as exhibiting low competence if they fell more the maladaptive group. In most cases for both EA and YA
than 0.5 SD below the mean on at least two of the three com- outcomes, the competent and resilient groups had obtained
petence indicators (i.e., z scores , 20.5). Adequate and low personality trait scores close to the mean in childhood,
competence was defined somewhat differently in YA to ac- whereas the maladaptive group had displayed notably
commodate the changing expectations for competence in negative personality traits in childhood. This pattern suggests
YA versus EA. During YA competent individuals may step that the participants who eventually became competent and
back from some domains of life to focus on others (e.g., a per- resilient in EA and YA had displayed normal-range personal-
son may choose not to work in order to focus on parenting, or ities in childhood, whereas the participants who eventually
may opt to focus on work rather than on cultivating a long- became maladaptive in EA and YA had already manifested
term romantic relationship). In addition, parenting becomes personality difficulties earlier in life.
Childhood personality and resilience 521

Table 7. Group means (standard deviations) on childhood personality traits for competent, resilient, and maladaptive
youth defined by competence in emerging adulthood and young adulthood

Group Status in Emerging Adulthood

Competent Resilient Maladaptive

Childhood Personality Traits (N 27) (N 36) (N 25) One-Way F for Group

Extraversion 0.14 (0.80) 0.19 (0.88) 20.13 (1.01) 0.96

Neuroticism 20.24a (0.97) 20.04a (0.86) 0.77b (1.01) 8.50***
Conscientiousness 0.28a (0.83) 0.16a (0.69) 20.28b (0.81) 3.91*
Agreeableness 0.29a (0.68) 0.24a (0.79) 20.56b (0.77) 10.51***
Openness to experience 0.23a (0.52) 0.17a (0.83) 20.45b (0.63) 7.40***

Group Status in Young Adulthood

Competent Resilient Maladaptive

(N 34) (N 49) (N 21)

Extraversion 0.06 (0.98) 20.08 (1.04) 20.39 (1.05) 1.28

Neuroticism 20.17a (0.95) 0.04a (1.05) 0.64b (0.90) 4.46*
Conscientiousness 0.43a (0.43) 0.07b (0.74) 20.34c (0.81) 7.04***
Agreeableness 0.21a (0.70) 0.11a (0.74) 20.40b (0.69) 5.17**
Openness to experience 0.19a (0.59) 0.09a (0.82) 20.44b (0.73) 5.35**

Note: Personality trait values are reported in full sample-based z scores. Groups with different subscripts differ significantly.
*p  .05. **p  .01. ***p  .001.

Continuity and change group comparisons on childhood per- ied as a group. All of the participants in the change group
sonality traits. As noted earlier, although most participants were female.
remained in the same group from EA to YA, there were Two sets of planned contrasts were undertaken. The first
some participants who switched groups from EA to YA. set of contrasts compared the stable competent and resilient
We were especially interested in exploring the childhood per- groups (CC or RR) to the group changing from maladaptive
sonality traits of the participants who switched from the mal- to resilient (MR) to determine whether the latter group had
adaptive group in EA to the resilient group in YA a decade faced any particular challenges in terms of negative child-
later. Thus, we created a change classification for participants hood personality traits. The second set of contrasts compared
based on their group identifications at EA and YA: partici- the group changing from maladaptive to resilient to the group
pants who were competent at both time points, participants that remained maladaptive across time (MR vs. MM) to deter-
who were resilient at both time points, participants who mine whether the change group exhibited any childhood per-
were maladaptive at both time points, and a small group of sonality traits that may have served as resources for their late-
six participants who changed from maladaptive in EA to re- emerging positive development. The results of the one-way
silient in YA. Only two participants switched from resilient ANOVAs testing the planned contrasts on the Big Five child-
in EA to maladaptive in YA and therefore could not be stud- hood traits are presented in Table 8. First, for the tests com-

Table 8. Group means (standard deviations) on childhood personality traits for stable/change groups

EA  YA Status Change

Planned Contrasts


Childhood Personality Traits (N 23) (N 29) (N 6) (N 13) F F

Extraversion 0.14 (0.85) 0.24 (0.91) 20.01 (1.12) 20.26 (0.90) 0.21 0.29
Neuroticism 20.17 (1.01) 20.16 (0.89) 1.06 (1.12) 0.77 (0.95) 4.37* 0.33
Conscientiousness 0.38 (0.72) 0.21 (0.63) 0.35 (0.34) 20.51 (0.83) 0.43 5.75*
Agreeableness 0.20 (0.66) 0.30 (0.81) 20.44 (0.38) 20.56 (0.80) 2.60 0.12
Openness to experience 0.25 (0.51) 0.23 (0.79) 20.31 (0.63) 20.57 (0.72) 1.79 0.54

Note: Personality trait values are reported in full sample-based z scores. C ! C, Competent in emerging adulthood (EA) and young adulthood (YA); R ! R,
resilient in EA and YA; M ! R, maladaptive in EA and resilient in YA; M ! M, maladaptive in EA and YA.
*p , .05.
522 R. L. Shiner and A. S. Masten

paring the stable competent and resilient groups to the change chronic adversity across the childhood and adolescent years,
group, the groups significantly differed on only one child- their personalities as children, and the interaction of the two
hood trait: the group that changed from maladaptive to resil- predicted the participants competence in developmental
ient received scores more than 1 SD higher on childhood neu- tasks 10 and 20 years later. In both EA and YA, the tasks in-
roticism than the stable competent and resilient groups. cluded academic attainment, rule-abiding versus antisocial
Second, for the tests comparing the stable maladaptive group conduct, and social competence with peers. Two additional
to the change group, one childhood trait differed; the group tasks were examined in YA: work competence and compe-
that changed from maladaptive to resilient displayed higher tence in romantic relationships. Chronic childhood/adoles-
childhood conscientiousness than the stable maladaptive cent adversity predicted academic attainment and rule-abid-
group. These results suggest that the group that changed from ing conduct in EA and YA but none of the other competent
maladaptive to resilient was characterized by very high levels outcomes; thus, main effects of chronic adversity seemed
of neuroticism in childhood but also displayed levels of child- to be limited to the domains of academic attainment and
hood conscientiousness comparable to the competent and re- conduct.
silient groups. For all of the outcomes 10 years later in EA and for aca-
demic attainment, social competence with peers, and work
competence 20 years later in YA, at least one of the childhood
Discussion Big Five traits added significant predictive power, even after
This study examined the significance of the Big Five person- controlling for childhood competence in the same domain (or
ality traits assessed in childhood for resilience in early adult- for childhood academic achievement in the case of YA work
hood. Resilience was defined in terms of adaptive compe- competence) and for the main effects of adversity. These re-
tence in multiple domains of age-salient developmental sults indicate that childhood personality traits predicted
tasks despite significant adversity throughout childhood changes in competent adaptation over time. These findings
and adolescence. Variable-focused and person-focused anal- are consistent with a model of personality traits serving as
yses were conducted. Regression analyses showed significant promotive factors for children facing adversity. Positive per-
main effects and only two interactions effects (personality by sonality traits added to the prediction of participants adaptive
adversity) for childhood personality predicting competence outcomes regardless of the participants exposure to signifi-
10 and 20 years later. Specifically, childhood personality cant adversity. In other words, particular personality traits
traits predicted adult adaptive outcomes, even after control- confer benefits for specific adult outcomes both for people
ling for the main effects of adversity. Person-centered analy- who have grown up in adverse conditions and for people
ses found that individuals identified as resilient in EA and YA who have grown up in more benign conditions. Our findings
(adequate competence, high adversity) differed from those in this regard complement those summarized by Lengua and
identified as maladaptive (low competence, high adversity) Wachs (in press) in their review of the contributions of tem-
in manifesting higher conscientiousness, agreeableness, and perament to resilience; they found a number of previous
openness and lower neuroticism 10 or 20 years earlier. Resil- studies in which low negative emotionality (similar to low
ient adults generally did not differ from their competent, low- neuroticism) and high effortful control (similar to high con-
adversity peers in childhood personality. Participants who scientiousness) predicted positive outcomes, controlling for
moved from the maladaptive category in EA to competent adversity exposure. We obtained similar findings for neurot-
in YA exhibited higher childhood conscientiousness than icism and conscientiousness. Our findings add to the previous
their consistently maladaptive peers. Results point to the im- ones by documenting that the predictive effects of childhood
portance of childhood personality for the development of traits extend to adulthood and that the personality traits of
adult competence across both high- and low-adversity condi- agreeableness and openness to experience additionally serve
tions. In the following, we explore the findings in greater de- as promotive factors for some adult outcomes. In addition, we
tail, first addressing the general findings for the links between were able to document that extraversion was a promotive fac-
child personality traits and adult competence and resilience tor for EA social competence with peers but a risk factor for
and then turning to the results for each of the Big Five traits. worse EA academic attainment.
We close by discussing the implications of the findings for fu- In the regression analyses, after examining whether adver-
ture research on child personality and resilience. sity and childhood traits predicted adult outcomes, we investi-
gated whether the interaction of adversity and the childhood
traits added to the prediction of adult competence. We found
General findings for childhood personality and adult two instances of this: child agreeableness interacted with ad-
resilience versity to predict EA rule-abiding conduct, and child con-
scientiousness interacted with adversity to predict EA social
Does personality assessed in childhood predict adult compe-
competence. We discuss these interaction effects in more de-
tence and resilience?
tail in the next section on each of the Big Five traits. It should
Variable-focused analyses. In the variable-focused anal- be kept in mind, however, that for the majority of the regres-
yses, we examined whether the participants exposure to sions, the interaction effects did not add to the prediction of
Childhood personality and resilience 523

adult outcomes. Thus, we did not obtain consistent evidence It is interesting to note that three of the childhood traits that
for childhood traits serving as protective or vulnerability fac- differentiated the later competent and resilient participants
tors because childhood personality only rarely moderated the from the maladaptive ones were (low) neuroticism, conscien-
effects of adversity on adult outcomes. Lengua and Wachs tiousness, and agreeableness. Across a number of studies with
(in press) review of the literature did identify some instances both children and adults, these traits tend to covary and, at a
in which the temperament traits of negative emotionality and higher level of organization, form a metatrait labeled stabil-
effortful control moderated the impact of adversity; however, ity by DeYoung (2006). Digman (1997) was one of the first
these studies generally measured personality, adversity, and researchers to identify this metatrait of low neuroticism, high
outcomes simultaneously or over much shorter periods of conscientiousness, and high agreeableness; he described this
time. Our findings should not be taken as demonstrating metatrait as representing a system indexing the different de-
that moderating effects of child personality and adversity grees of success achieved by the socialization process
do not occur; such effects are difficult to detect without a (p. 1250). He viewed these traits as the ones that adults strive
very large sample size (Donnellan, Conger, McAdams, & to cultivate in the children under their care. This overarching
Neppl, 2009). Moreover, it is conceivable that the moderating trait measures individuals tendencies to maintain well-con-
influences of personality and adversity are more readily de- trolled, stable functioning in emotional, social, and motiva-
tected during short time windows rather than across long tional domains (DeYoung, 2006). Given the importance of
time periods. Future work with large, longitudinal samples this cluster of traits for maintaining stable, adaptive function-
is needed to examine the possible moderating role of child- ing, it is not surprising that all three traits foreshadowed later
hood personality and adversity for adult outcomes. adult competent outcomes.

Person-centered analyses. In the person-centered analyses, What childhood traits characterize the late-blooming partic-
we examined the childhood personality traits of participants ipants? Following earlier work by Masten et al. (2004), we
with particular configurations of EA or YA competence and examined the childhood traits of the group of six participants
childhood/adolescent adversity. The competent and resilient who changed status from maladaptive in EA to competent in
groups defined in both EA and YA exhibited different patterns YA. Relative to the participants who remained competent or
of childhood traits than the maladaptive group. Specifically, the resilient from EA to YA, this late-blooming group differed on
competent and resilient groups manifested higher levels of one notable childhood trait: neuroticism. The group changing
childhood conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness to from maladaptive to competent exhibited levels of neuroti-
experience and lower levels of childhood neuroticism than cism more than 1 SD higher than the two groups that had al-
the maladaptive group; the three groups did not differ in child- ready achieved positive outcomes by EA. Most likely, the
hood extraversion. The competent and resilient groups did not high levels of negative emotions experienced by the change
differ from each other in their earlier childhood traits, with one group posed difficulties for them in childhood and adoles-
exception; in the YA analyses, the competent group manifested cence. Perhaps the final maturing of cognitive control systems
higher childhood conscientiousness than the resilient group. or opportunities to move into new contexts in early adulthood
The pattern of findings for these person-centered analyses facilitated positive change in this group (Burt & Masten,
yields some important insights into the prediction of resili- 2009; Steinberg, 2009).
ence from childhood personality. In most cases, the mean per- This change group also differed from the group that was
sonality trait scores for the competent and resilient groups fell consistently maladaptive from EA to YA; in this case, the
within 0.33 SD of the mean for the whole Project Competence change group turned out to have demonstrated higher levels
sample. In other words, the two groups with good adult out- of childhood conscientiousness than the stable maladaptive
comes had not exhibited extremely positive personality traits group. Given the level of negative emotionality displayed in
in childhood; rather, they had exhibited personality traits that childhood by this group, perhaps they were able to correct their
were modestly above or below the average in a positive direc- developmental pathway in early adulthood with the support of
tion. Further, the findings indicated that the resilient partici- adult executive functions that require late-maturing prefrontal
pants were able to attain positive adult outcomes with the neural systems. They may have needed fully mature executive
same levels of positive childhood traits as the competent par- functions to make important changes in their lives, including
ticipants, suggesting that only modestly positive levels of per- better self-regulation of negative emotions. The current find-
sonality traits were needed for participants to be able to over- ings are consistent with results from earlier analyses from Pro-
come adversity. In contrast, for all the childhood traits except ject Competence on the EA resources of the two groups (Mas-
for extraversion, the maladaptive participants scored between ten et al., 2004); in these earlier analyses, the change group
0.28 and 0.77 SD away from the sample mean in a negative exhibited higher planfulness/future motivation and autonomy
direction. The participants who struggled to overcome adver- in EA than the group remaining maladaptive from EA to
sity by adulthood were those who had exhibited relatively YA. The late-blooming group showed evidence of potential in-
higher negative emotions, along with lower levels of positive ternal resources in terms of self-control, both in childhood and
interpersonal traits, self-control, and drive for mastery as chil- in EA. We should note that all of the participants in the change
dren. group were female, which is consistent with Werner and
524 R. L. Shiner and A. S. Masten

Smiths (1992) finding that females were more likely than tremely high levels of childhood neuroticism compared to the
males to show significant turnarounds in resilience from ado- persistently competent and resilient groups. Taken together,
lescence to adulthood. Females exhibited higher childhood these findings suggest that high levels of neuroticism pose
conscientiousness than boys in this sample, consistent with risks for development across all levels of adversity. Previous
other research on childhood gender differences in self-control work in the Project Competence sample examined differ-
(Else-Quest, Hyde, Goldsmith, & Van Hulle, 2006). The all- ences in concurrent negative emotionality and stress reactiv-
female makeup of the late-blooming resilient participants in ity in the EA competent, resilient, and maladaptive groups
this study sample may perhaps be due in part to the fact that and found that the maladaptive group reported considerably
the female participants had higher average levels of conscien- higher levels of these negative personality traits (Masten
tiousness, which may have provided them with an advantage et al., 1999); the present findings add to this earlier work
over the males in the development of competence over time. by showing that these differences in negative emotions in
the three EA groups were already present in childhood. The
present findings are consistent with the large literature linking
Findings for specific Big Five childhood traits and adult
negative emotionality with adaptive failures in childhood and
competence and resilience
neuroticism with social difficulties and psychopathology in
Extraversion. Extraversion measured the childrens tenden- adults (Caspi & Shiner, 2006). Previous work from Project
cies toward being outgoing and socially dominant, rather Competence demonstrated that adaptive problems in child-
than socially withdrawn and passive. The current measure hood predicted increasingly high levels of negative emotion-
of extraversion emphasized participants tendencies toward ality from childhood through EA (Shiner, Masten, & Telle-
social potency, rather than their positive emotions and gen, 2002). Thus, negative emotions in childhood and
warm connections with others. In the present study, extraver- adaptive difficulties may have reciprocal negative effects on
sion had mixed relationships with competence and resilience. each other.
Concurrently, childhood extraversion was associated posi-
tively with academic achievement and social competence, Conscientiousness. Conscientiousness focused on the chil-
but it was associated negatively with rule-abiding conduct. drens serious, thorough, and responsible approach to school;
Consistent with previous findings in this sample (Shiner, children high on this trait embraced the schools agenda for
2000), extraversion predicted positive relationships with them and showed good self-control. Conscientiousness was
peers in EA, controlling for childhood social competence positively associated with all three concurrent indicators of
and adversity exposure. However, extraversion also predicted competence. Further, even after controlling for adversity ex-
negative changes in academic attainment from childhood to posure, the trait was a robust predictor of positive increases
EA, controlling for adversity. Extraversion was also the in academic achievement from childhood to EA and YA,
only childhood trait that did not vary across the EA and YA and it predicted YA work competence as well. In addition,
competent, resilient, and maladaptive groups. Overall, in the competent and resilient participants in EA and YA had
this study extraversion seemed less relevant for the develop- a childhood history of higher conscientiousness than their
ment of adult resilience than any of the other traits, perhaps in maladaptive peers. As noted previously, this was the one
part because of its mixed impact on the development of com- childhood trait that differentiated those who switched from
petence. This finding may seem to contradict earlier work maladaptive in EA to resilient in YA from those who re-
from the Kauai Longitudinal Study showing that more emo- mained maladaptive over time. The present findings add to
tionally positive children became more resilient as adults the cumulating evidence that childhood self-control is crucial
(Werner & Smith, 1992). It seems possible that the childhood for many aspects of positive adult development (Moffitt et al.,
measures of emotional positivity in the Kauai study may have 2011) and demonstrate the importance of childrens con-
indexed the positive emotions associated with early agree- scientious approach to schoolwork.
ableness, rather than extraversion. We found an interesting interaction effect for childhood
conscientiousness and chronic adversity in the prediction of
Neuroticism. Neuroticism measured the childrens propensity social competence with peers in EA. Specifically, children
toward feeling worried, distressed, easily upset, inferior, and who were low on conscientiousness and exposed to low levels
sad. Childhood neuroticism was negatively associated with of adversity had higher levels of social competence in EA,
concurrent rule-abiding conduct and social competence. whereas children who were low on conscientiousness and ex-
This trait predicted worsening academic achievement from posed to high adversity and the children who were high on
childhood to EA, and it negatively predicted YA work com- conscientiousness (regardless of adversity exposure) devel-
petence after controlling for childhood academic achieve- oped lower levels of social competence in EA. In other words,
ment. In addition, the maladaptive participants in EA and low conscientious children with relatively benign life condi-
YA exhibited much higher levels of neuroticism as children tions had the best outcomes in terms of friendships with peers
than those who were competent and resilient in EA and in the EA years. Previous work in Project Competence may
YA, and the late-blooming participants who switched from help to clarify this surprising finding. Children who were
maladaptive in EA to competent in YA likewise showed ex- high on conscientiousness grew up to be more likely to see
Childhood personality and resilience 525

themselves as behaviorally controlled, nonaggressive, and Openness to experience. Openness to experience described
traditional and as disliking risky situations, and they reported the childrens imaginativeness, creativity, enthusiastic in-
having somewhat more inhibited social relationships as adults volvement in activities, and engagement in the life of the
(Shiner et al., 2003). Perhaps the less conscientious children mind. Similar constellations of traits with the label mastery
who had experienced less adversity were less inhibited in the motivation or achievement motivation have received a great
EA years and better able to cultivate friendships with peers deal of attention in the developmental literature, particularly
during the EA phase of life, when forming friendships re- because these traits typically are linked with better academic
quires considerable self-initiative. It is important to empha- attainment, at least in childhood (Wigfield, Eccles, Schiefele,
size, however, that any advantage of low childhood conscien- Roeser, & Davis-Kean, 2006). In this study, childhood open-
tiousness for positive friendships disappeared by YA. ness was associated positively with all three childhood compe-
tence domains, and it predicted positive changes in academic
Agreeableness. Agreeableness assessed the childrens ten- achievement in EA and YA and in social competence in EA,
dencies to be considerate, flexible, kind, and tolerant rather controlling for adversity and childhood competence in those
than selfish, egotistical, rude, and cynical. This trait was pos- domains. Higher childhood openness also differentiated the
itively associated with rule-abiding conduct and social com- competent and maladaptive groups in EA and YA from the
petence in childhood and with a broader range of positive maladaptive group. Some childhood measures of openness ac-
adult outcomes than any other trait. After controlling for ad- tually include items measuring childrens ability to adapt flex-
versity exposure, childhood agreeableness predicted positive ibly to new or challenging situations (e.g., Goldberg, 2001). In
changes in academic achievement in EA and YA, rule-abid- a study of adults presented with a laboratory stressor, higher
ing conduct in EA, and social competence with peers in EA openness was related to better stress regulation at both the
and YA, and it predicted positive work competence in YA, physiological and psychological levels (Williams, Rau, Crib-
controlling for earlier academic achievement. Clearly, agree- bet, & Gunn, 2009). This trait appears to index individual dif-
ableness was important both for more task-focused endeavors ferences in positive engagement with novel information and
like school and work and for relationships. The competent situations and may be an important source of adaptability in
and resilient groups in EA and YA also manifested higher stressful times.
agreeableness in childhood than the maladaptive group. Be-
cause much of the work on traits as sources of resilience
Limitations and implications of findings for future work on
has focused on temperament traits, agreeableness has been
childhood personality and the development of resilience
an overlooked contributor to resilient outcomes. Other re-
search confirms that disagreeableness is associated with a This study had a number of limitations as well as strengths.
wide variety of negative outcomes (Caspi & Shiner, 2006; The sample size was moderate for the complexity of the anal-
Laursen, Hafen, Rubin, Booth-LaForce, & Rose-Krasnor, yses, and the cohort varied in age at each assessment point. In
2010) and that agreeableness may be an especially important addition, the Big Five childhood personality traits were mea-
source of resilience for those confronted by severe difficulties sured using different measures for each trait, rather than via a
(Boyce & Wood, 2011). single standardized personality measure. This study also did
Agreeableness may also serve a protective effect for con- not attempt to elucidate the processes by which childhood
duct for people exposed to high levels of adversity, given personality may influence the development of competence
that the interaction of childhood agreeableness and chronic or resilience. Nonetheless, this study offers a rare glimpse
adversity predicted EA rule-abiding versus antisocial con- at the predictive significance of childhood personality for
duct. Participants with a history of high childhood agreeable- competence and resilience in adulthood, providing important
ness manifested good rule-abiding conduct rather than antiso- clues for future investigation. Strengths of the study include
cial conduct in EA regardless of adversity exposure; in the longitudinal design with high retention, multimethod as-
contrast, at low levels of childhood agreeableness, conduct sessments, and robust indicators of a wide range of child
was worse in EA in interaction with high adversity. Although traits, including agreeableness and openness, two traits that
results do not always replicate, a number of studies have doc- have been previously overlooked in developmental research
umented geneenvironment interactions in which particular on resilience.
types of chronic adversity in combination with specific genes The present findings demonstrate that all of the Big Five
predicted heightened risks of conduct disorder or antisocial childhood traits except for extraversion are harbingers of
behavior (Thapar, Harold, Rice, Langley, & ODonovan, adult competence and resilience. Taken together, the results
2007). Looked at differently, these studies show that particu- suggest that children who do well in important developmental
lar genes may promote resilience in the face of adversity tasks, whether they face low or high adversity, have the
(Kim-Cohen & Gold, 2009). The trait of agreeableness may ability to regulate their emotions and apply themselves seri-
be a mediator through which genetic vulnerabilities and pro- ously to schoolwork, as well as the capacity for empathy
tections have their effects. Certainly, this trait warrants more and connection, and the drive for mastery and exploration.
consideration as a source of resilence, given its association However, youths do not need to exhibit unusually high levels
with many positive adult outcomes. of these positive traits for them to attain resilient outcomes in
526 R. L. Shiner and A. S. Masten

the face of stress and adversity; rather, modestly positive 2011). There is thus the potential for traits to change, both
levels of these traits seem to suffice. In contrast, youths naturally and through intervention. A number of intervention
with more challenging personality traitshigh levels of programs have been designed to modify childrens typical
negative emotions, poor self-control, disagreeableness, and patterns of behavior, including their capacities for self-regu-
disinterest in mastery developmentare likely to be at risk lation, emotional competence, and coping (Blair & Diamond,
for negative outcomes, regardless of their exposure to ad- 2008; Duckworth & Allred, in press; McClowry & Collins, in
versity. press; Noam & Herman, 2002). Findings like those in the
There undoubtedly are many processes by which person- present study help to pinpoint what behavioral patterns may
ality traits in childhood could influence adult success, in be effective targets for prevention and intervention.
low- as well as high-adversity contexts. These were not exam- Finally, the present results point to the need to better un-
ined in this study, but it will be important to elucidate these derstand the interplay of adversity and personality develop-
processes, particularly for the goal of preventing maladaptive ment. This study focused on chronic adversity that was inde-
outcomes and promoting resilience among young people ex- pendent of the participants behavior and its impact on the
posed to high adversity. Childhood personality already was development of competence. Much of the adversity that indi-
moderately related to concurrent competence at the outset viduals experience arises either directly or indirectly from
of the study, suggesting earlier influence of child traits on their own behavior and thus is likely to be related to their per-
competence already had occurred. Moreover, specific traits sonality traits (see, e.g., King, Molina, & Chassin, 2008). Fu-
were related to multiple domains of competence over time, ture work should consider the possibility that nonindependent
suggesting that there may be multiple pathways through adversity may have its own separate impact on the develop-
which child traits affect adaptation. A number of previous re- ment of competence and resilience. Adversity may also
ports from this study have indicated cascade effects, where have an impact on personality development. Preliminary
adaptive behavior in one domain appears to spread to other work indicates that some exposure to adversity may actually
domains over time (Masten et al., 2005, 2010; Obradovic confer benefits for both external adaptation and internal life
et al., 2010). Personality could have various indirect effects satisfaction, relative to no exposure to adversity at all (Seery,
on adult competence via its effect on related domains of com- Holman, & Silver, 2010). Nonetheless, there is other evidence
petence. For example, agreeableness could influence work that extreme adversity, including significant poverty, has
outcomes indirectly though effects on social competence; negative effects on personality development, including chil-
earlier results from this study indicate that social competence drens emerging self-regulatory skills (Blair, 2010; Hart, At-
in childhood has unique predictive effects on work compe- kins, & Matsuba, 2008). In this study, chronic adversity was
tence (Masten et al., 2010). Future work may help to elucidate modestly negatively correlated with childhood conscientious-
the processes through which childrens personality traits ness, agreeableness, and openness to experience and modestly
shape their behavior and subsequent adaptation. positively correlated with childhood neuroticism. It is thus
Although temperament and personality traits show some possible that early adversity may have already impacted the
continuity across time, even in the early childhood years (Ro- participants personality traits before the study began. Future
berts & DelVecchio, 2000), they also change over time. Ra- work should attempt to gain a more complete picture of the
ther than being static, endogenous features of the person, complex processes through which childrens personalities
traits are developmental constructions that emerge through and their adverse experiences affect their development of
the interplay of genetic and environmental factors (Rothbart, effective adaptation over time.

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