Arts & Sciences

How parents’ personalities shape children’s lives

A new study by Joshua Jackson in Arts & Sciences found that five key personality traits in parents can significantly affect their child’s health, grades and more. (Photo: Shutterstock)

A new study co-authored by Joshua Jackson, PhD, the Saul and Louise Rosenzweig Associate Professor in Personality Sciences in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, explores how parents’ personalities — boisterous or reserved, agreeable or cranky, concerned or care-free — can shape the lives of their children, for better or worse.

The study involved nearly 9,400 kids aged 11-17 and their parents who participated in a German survey that has been running since 1984. Researchers considered the so-called “big five” traits psychologists use to describe personality in broad strokes: Extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness and neuroticism.

Jackson (left) and Wright

The survey also included measures of the kids’ lives, including their overall health, grades in school, use of alcohol or cigarettes, the amount of time spent on leisure activities — beyond watching TV or surfing the Internet — and the frequency of family arguments.

The research, led by graduate student Amanda Wright, was published recently in Infant and Child Development. Below, Jackson explained the findings and the impact a parent’s personality can have on their kids.

Can you briefly describe the “big five” personality traits you studied?

Extraversion is a measure of how outgoing and energetic a person is. Agreeableness refers to being cooperative and getting along with others. Openness relates to creativity and imagination. Conscientious people are organized, deliberate and careful. Neurotic people are generally anxious, worried and nervous.

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