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Are personality traits ‘contagious’ at preschool?

Personality traits are “contagious” among preschoolers who spend time together, new research shows.

The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, suggests environment—not just genes—shapes personality.

“Our finding, that personality traits are ‘contagious’ among children, flies in the face of common assumptions that personality is ingrained and can’t be changed,” says Jennifer Watling Neal, associate professor of psychology at Michigan State University and co-investigator of the study. “This is important because some personality traits can help children succeed in life, while others can hold them back.”

Expel preschoolers or teach them social skills?

The researchers studied two preschool classes for an entire school year, analyzing personality traits and social networks for one class of three-year-olds and one class of four-year-olds.

Children whose play partners were extroverted or hard-working became similar to these peers over time. Children whose play partners were overanxious and easily frustrated, however, did not take on these particular traits. The study is the first to examine these personality traits in young children over time.

Emily Durbin, study co-investigator and associate professor of psychology, says kids are having a bigger effect on each other than people may realize.

“Parents spend a lot of their time trying to teach their child to be patient, to be a good listener, not to be impulsive,” Durbin says. “But this wasn’t their parents or their teachers affecting them–it was their friends. It turns out that three- and four-year-olds are being change agents.”

Source: Michigan State University

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