While Student's Basic Personality Is Hardly Changed His Concern Shifts from Academic to Interpersonal Ones


(Following are excerpts from a paper presented at the American College Personnel Association Conference in Dallas, Texas, on March 21, 1967, by Stanley H.King, director of research to the University Health Services--Ed.)

The Harvard Student Study began in 1958 under a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, a grant which has been extended to ten years of support. The mandate in the beginning was quite general: to seek answers to these questions. Do students change in personality during the college years? If so, what kinds of students change and in what ways? How are patterns of personality development related to the social structure end culture of the college?...

Random samples of students from the Harvard Classes of 1964 and 1965 were followed for the duration of their college careers. By using samples from two different classes, we could in effect "repeat our experiment," or test our initial hypotheses. From the first of the random samples we selected a smaller group (initially 50) for an in depth, or case history study.

All of the data from the Class of 1964 are on computer tape. Variable labels for some 9,500 variables are also part of the computer system, a system that will accommodate the data from the survey of the Class of 1965 as soon as it is checked and "cleaned" (to be completed in about a month).

As the analysis of our data proceeds, we are impressed by the stability of personality across the four years of college.

The similarity of the two random samples (from the Classes of 1964 and 1965) in the senior years makes us suspect that there may be something to the idea of a typical Harvard pattern. If a given class varies from this on entrance, slight though this variation be, there is a shift toward the typical pattern by graduation.

Two major themes underlie the kinds of occupations listed. First, the majority of them deal with words and the manipulation of ideas.

Taken as a whole, the Harvard samples are oriented to matters intellectual as a primary source of interest, and to the professions which allow this an outlet in work.

The second theme is an orientation toward people, with an emphasis on scales that fall in Group V of the Strong profile, the social service occupations (public administrator, social worker, rehabilitation counselor, music teacher). Apparently this is one of the things that the Admissions Committee looks for in selecting candidates, and it fits with what we have come to know about the environment.

Dr.Rebecca Vreeland and Dr.Charles Bidwell, our sociologists, have described two of the four major goals at Harvard as being sociability and citizenship. The House system at Harvard encourages the former, by dividing the upperclassmen into eight residential units which have a responsibility for social and intellectual interaction as well as providing a place to live.

On the other hand, the administration, particularly in the deans and the administrative representatives in the Houses, stress responsible citizenship. (The harrassment of Secretary McNamara earlier in the year was viewed by both administration and the majority of the students as a violation of that principle.) Harvard, therefore, recruits students who have both a strong intellectual orientation and one toward social interaction and citizenship. Once recruited, the student finds himself in an environment that supports these interests....

The perception scales (of the Myer Biggs type indication), which are called sensing or intuition, reflect whether the subject "relies primarily on the familiar process of sensing, by which he is made aware of things directly through one or another of his five senses, or primarily on the less obvious process of intuition, which is understood as indirect perception by way of the unconscious, with the emphasis on ideas or associations which the unconscious tacks on to the outside things perceived." Mean scores in intuition were more than twice as high as means in sensation.

Assuming for the moment the validity of the Myers Briggs, we have evidence that students enter our colleges with a distinct preference for intuitive perception and leave with the same cognitive style.

Harvard students are somewhat low on anomie, at about the middle on cynicism, and stay that way.

All this evidence indicates to us that subjects in both our samples did not change in basic personality characteristics over four years of college. The strongest hypothesis arising from our findings would state that there is a constancy and stability to personality that is set relatively early in life and undergoes little or no change later. It is set by the time that a student reaches college....