Expectant and new mothers dream about what their child will be like. Will she be smiley or cry all the time? Will he be an adventurous little guy or on the calmer side? Will they grow to be smart like their father or creative like their mother? But despite how much time and energy they commit to these thoughts, they’ll never know the answers until their babies grow into their individual personalities. Still, researchers at Goldsmiths, University of London, wondered what personalities mothers would choose for their children if given the opportunity and were determined to find out.
Rachel M. Latham and Sophie von Stumm, leaders of this new study published in Personality and Individual Differences, asked 142 British mothers about their personality preferences for their babies who aged from 0 to 12 months old. These moms were first taught a little bit about the Big Five personality traits—extraversion, conscientiousness, neuroticism, agreeableness, and openness—and their corresponding features. They were then asked to pick which feature they’d want their child to have in each personality category. Some notable results are as follows and further detailed in an article by British Psychological Society’s Research Digest:
- Extraversion: Most moms preferred their child to be friendly and/or cheerful over assertive, gregarious, active, and daring.
- Conscientiousness: The majority of the moms placed achievement-striving highest in importance followed by self-efficacy, self-discipline, dutifulness, orderliness, and cautiousness.
- Neuroticism: Moms would rather their child be self-conscious over the other options of vulnerable, temperamental, angry, depressed, or anxious.
- Agreeableness: A good majority of mothers prioritized morality over trust, sympathy, altruism, cooperation, and modesty for their children.
- Openness: Mothers would like their kids to be imaginative and intellectual as opposed to emotional, adventurous, artistic, and liberal.
After this, the mothers were asked to revisit their chosen feature from each trait (e.g., if a mom chose morality in the agreeableness category, morality would be one of these features) and organize them, along with intelligence, in order of importance. Latham and von Stumm found that more than half of the moms chose a feature of extraversion as the absolute most important. This was followed by 20% choosing a feature of agreeableness, just under 10% rating a feature of openness as the most important, and intelligence and conscientiousness not too far behind.
Latham and von Stumm noted the significant contrast between mothers’ priorities and research concerning which personality traits correspond with positive and negative life outcomes.
For example, people who are more intelligent and conscientious typically live longer, healthier lives than others, but these were placed pretty low on the mother’s scale of importance.
And though extroverted people might be happier, extroversion is also related to developing issues with alcohol and/or drugs—but moms identified it as the most important personality trait for their children to have.
Although the research didn’t explore why exactly mothers prioritized the traits in the order that they did, Latham and von Stumm wondered if “mothers’ preference for extraversion is the result of a cohort effect, whereby the current zeitgeist, rather than the mothers themselves, values and encourages extraversion.” Whether their speculations are correct may be revealed in due time with follow-up research, along with what personalities fathers would create for their child if given the power.
Perhaps it’s important to acknowledge that the study had a couple shortcomings. First, all of the Big Five personality traits were presented in a positive light except for an individual’s emotionality as presented by neuroticism. Had the trait been characterized as, say, emotional stability instead, with more positive features, it’s probable that mothers would have rated it as a higher priority. This is supported by past research that shows young adults would choose to improve their emotional stability over anything else. Another shortcoming lies in how the features of extraversion were framed; there weren’t any that favored introversion, they instead were worded to favor the extroverted end of the spectrum. Results could have easily been different had the introverted end been highlighted as well.
Despite these possible faults, the study succeeded nonetheless in revealing a lot about what expectant and new mothers hope for their mini-me’s. Future research will only tighten up these findings and explore further details.