Feb. 3 (UPI) -- A study from Michigan State University has found that personality traits among children may be shaped by environment rather than just genes.
Researchers from the psychology department at Michigan State studied two preschool classes for a whole school year and found that personality traits and social networks among 3- and 4-year-olds became similar over time. The study was the first of its kind to study personality traits in young children over time.
"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," Jennifer Watling Neal, associate professor of psychology and co-author of the study, said in a press release. "This is important because some personality traits can help children succeed in life, while others can hold them back."
Researchers found that children whose peers were extroverted or hard-working modeled the same traits over time. However, children whose peers were overanxious and easily frustrated did not take on those personality traits.
The study, which was also co-authored by doctoral students Allison Gornik and Sharon Lo, found that children have a bigger influence on each other than previously thought.
"Parents spend a lot of their time trying to teach their child to be patient, to be a good listener, not to be impulsive," Emily Durbin, associate professor of psychology and co-author of the study, said in a press release. "But this wasn't their parents or their teachers affecting them -- it was their friends. It turns out that 3- and 4-year-olds are being change agents."
The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.