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Goal importance and goal attainability: Age matters for their content, but not for their dynamics or predictive validity on outcomes

Press release: "A closer look at life goals across adulthood: Applying a developmental perspective to content, dynamics, and outcomes of goal importance and goal attainability"

An article by Janina Bühler, Rebekka Weidmann, Jana Nikitin, and Alexander Grob entitled, “A closer look at life goals across adulthood: Applying a developmental perspective to content, dynamics, and outcomes of goal importance and goal attainability”, has just been published in the European Journal of Personality. In this study, Bühler and colleagues investigated two aspects of life goals (i.e., importance and attainability) across the life span. Their results suggest that while goal content was related to age, dynamics and outcomes of goal importance and goal attainability were less dependent on age. The study was published in an issue of the European Journal of Personality dedicated to the subject of age in personality psychology, titled “Does age matter for personality psychology?”.

In their study, Bühler and colleagues examined life goals – that is, those major strivings that set the compass that directs and guides the life (e.g., starting a family) – across the entire adult life span (participants’ age ranged from 18 to 92 years). More specifically, the authors looked at six broad life-goal domains and examined the importance and attainability that people ascribe to these domains. Their findings showed that goal content was age-dependent, in the sense that different life-goal domains were rated as more (vs. less) important and attainable at different life stages. For instance, participants rated personal-growth, status, and work goals as more important and more attainable the younger they were. Speaking to the dynamic interplay between goal importance and goal attainability, both aspects were reciprocally linked to each other across a time span of 2 years for most goal domains; this interplay was independent of age except for the status-goal domain. Finally, with regard to the outcomes, attainability of intrinsic goals, rather than their importance, was positively linked to cognitive aspects (i.e., life satisfaction and domain-specific satisfaction) and affective aspects (i.e., positive and negative affect) of subjective well-being; this association was mostly independent of age.

Reflecting on their findings, Bühler said in a recent interview with the European Journal of Personality:

“[These findings suggest] that although age is important for what we strive for, it's not so much important for how we strive for. … This implies that people of any age are able to adjust their goals and to benefit from these goals. [Speaking to] successful aging, our findings suggest that it is important that people of any age have goals … and that they have the perception that they can achieve them.”

Correspondence about this study may be addressed to the lead author, Ms. Janina Larissa Bühler, Division of Personality and Developmental Psychology, Department of Psychology, University of Basel, Missionsstrasse 62, 4055 Basel, Switzerland. Ms. Bühler can be contacted via email on

A conversation with Florian Lange

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