Case study

Does personality moderate the reaction and adaptation to major life events?

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Author: Stevie C. Y. Yap, Michigan State University (USA), in collaboration with Ivana Anusic and Richard E. Lucas

Date: 22 August 2012

Type of case study: Research

About the research

Our lives are filled with major events that change our perceptions and our levels of life satisfaction. Marriage, the birth of a child, the death of a spouse and periods of unemployment can be stressful at the time but can have long-lasting effects on how we feel about life in general. However, people experience these events and their effects differently. Could our individual personalities be an influence? Researchers from Michigan State University have been trying to find out.

The researchers looked into the major life events listed above and found all of them led to some kind of short-term change in life satisfaction. Only marriage and widowhood were found to have persistent changes in life satisfaction after age-related and normative changes were accounted for.

The researchers discovered that personality did not have a consistent moderating effect on how individuals would react and adapt to these life changes.

About the data

This research used data from the British Household Panel Survey: Waves 1-18, 1991-2009, a national longitudinal survey of households in Britain that provides insights into social and economic change on an individual and household level. It was an annual survey of over 5,000 households and included several questionnaires covering demographics, living arrangements, employment and health. From 2009 it was integrated into the new Understanding Society survey.


This research used life satisfaction, Big Five personality domains and demographics as its variables and marriage, childbirth, widowhood and unemployment as its life events to be examined.

Firstly, they examined whether the survey participants' reported happiness was higher or lower after the event compared to before. Secondly, they wanted to account for normative changes to well-being over time so they could measure if people's happiness was different from where it would have been without the life event to change normal patterns. Thirdly, they examined the influence of certain personality traits on affecting these outcomes.

Publications and outputs

Yap, S.C.Y, Anusic, I., and Lucas, R.E. (2012) 'Does personality moderate reaction and adaptation to major life events? Evidence from the British Household Panel Survey', Journal of Research in Personality. 46(5), pp. 477-488. doi: 10.1016/j.jrp.2012.05.005 Retrieved 2 September 2013 from

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