Development and Psychopathology

Special Section Articles

Childhood personality as a harbinger of competence and resilience in adulthood

Rebecca L. Shinera1 c1 and Ann S. Mastena2

a1 Colgate University

a2 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.

(Online publication April 17 2012)


Work on this paper was supported by grants from the Colgate Research Council and from a Presidential Scholar award from Colgate University (to R.L.S.) and the Fesler-Lampert Chair in Urban and Regional Affairs (to A.S.M.). The results were based on data collected as part of the Project Competence Longitudinal Study, which has been supported through grants to Ann Masten, Auke Tellegen, and Norman Garmezy from the National Institute of Mental Health (MH33222), the William T. Grant Foundation, the National Science Foundation (SBR-9729111), and the University of Minnesota. Any conclusions or views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Institute of Mental Health, National Science Foundation, or William T. Grant Foundation.