Science says a leopard can indeed change its spots (if it lives long enough).

Growing up, I often heard the proverb, ” A leopard cannot change its spots,” a line always used to confirm the fact that, like a leopard’s spots, a person cannot become good if their nature is bad. This is from the old testament and goes like this:

Jeremiah 13:23
“Can Ethiopians change their skin or leopards their spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.”

But, for decades, scientists have been looking for ways to prove or disprove Jeremiah’s theory about the spots and the people (because they are scientists and they had some left over grant money I guess).

And as it turns out, Jeremiah was probably incorrect. A recent study published in Psychology and Aging (2016 Vol. 31. No 8, 862-874) determined that your personality and the content of your character at age 77 bear no resemblance to that of your 14 year-old self.

“We hypothesized that we would find evidence of personality stability over an even longer period of 63 years, but our correlations did not support the hypothesis.” Harris, Brett, Johnson, and Deary, study authors.

This is all really great news because I was a self-absorbed a**hole at 14 and I like to believe that I won’t always be one. So what’s the catch?


You have to live long enough to experience a change in your personality. Their data indicates that as expected, our personalities change incrementally over time based on the life experiences we have and how we process them. This is the first time a study included anyone old enough to demonstrate a significant change in personality. So plan on living into your 80’s if you want to be fully self-actualized.


There are so many limitations to this study that I feel bad even pretending this data is legitimate.

There were only 171 of the original 1,208 study participants still alive at age 77 for the researchers to even talk to and collect data from. And, there is no mention of a personal motivation to change our spots over time, which arguably is the only way we can.

We must change our spots ourselves.  We must want to go on a journey, we must recognize that journey for what it is, and we must be willing to be changed by it.

Science cannot do that for us.

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