Has the COVID-19 pandemic led to changes in our personality traits?

  • Key personality traits are thought to remain relatively stable throughout most of a person’s adult life, but can be affected by stressful personal events.
  • A recent study found changes in personality trait expression during the COVID-19 pandemic in a nationally representative sample.
  • The findings suggest that younger people were more susceptible to changes in personality traits, with a decrease in conscientiousness, friendliness and an increase in neuroticism.
  • These results suggest that, in addition to stressful personal events, global events such as the COVID-19 pandemic could potentially lead to changes in personality traits.

Previous studies have shown that levels of neuroticism declined during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. A new study published in PLOS One found that these changes in neuroticism were short-lived and normalized later in the 2021-2022 pandemic.

However, other personality traits such as friendliness, openness, extroversion and conscientiousness declined during the later stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021-2022.

The study found that younger individuals were particularly prone to changes in personality traits during the pandemic, suggesting a disruption in personality development and the maturation process that normally occurs during young adulthood.

Medical news today spoke to Dr. Brent Roberts, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“It’s quite important from a theoretical perspective to know that global events, such as the pandemic, can have the effect of altering personality, which is often thought to be fixed and impervious to change,” said Dr. Roberts.

“It is also of potential pragmatic value, since from an epidemiological point of view the long-term changes, somewhat negative and aimed at young adults, would mean that these cohorts would be more vulnerable to problematic mental and physical health outcomes due solely to psychological factors. and no physiological reasons,” he explained.

The personality model with five factors is a widely used model that describes personality based on the presence of five broad characteristics. The model includes the following five personality traits:

  • Extraversion – a tendency to be extraverted, energetic and assertive
  • Neuroticism – a tendency to persistent and excessive pessimism and anxiety
  • Conscientiousness – a tendency to be organized, self-disciplined, responsible and hardworking
  • Agreeableness — a tendency to be empathetic, kind, accommodating, and trustworthy
  • Openness – a tendency to be curious, imaginative and open-minded

These personality traits remain relatively stable throughout an adult’s life and are generally unaffected by personal experiences. Previous studies have shown that individuals show a small change in personality traits with age. In particular, conscientiousness and kindness gradually increase with age, while neuroticism, openness, and extroversion tend to decrease.

Although generally considered stable, personal stressful or traumatic events can affect these personality traits. In contrast, studies examining the impact of collective stressful events, such as the 2011 New Zealand earthquake or Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana, have shown that there is no change in personality traits in response to these events.

The COVID-19 pandemic differs from other natural disasters in its global impact and impact on all aspects of life. Previous studies have shown that decrease in neuroticism during the early or acute stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that many individuals with generally higher levels of anxiety – associated with neuroticism – experienced lower levels of anxiety during the early phase of the pandemic.

However, there is limited and conflicting evidence about the impact of the pandemic on other personality traits. In addition, there is limited data on the impact of the pandemic on personality traits after 2020.

The current study used data from the Understanding America Study (UAS) to examine the impact of the early and subsequent stages of the COVID-19 pandemic on personality traits in a large and diverse population. The UAS consists of an internet panel of approximately 9,500 individuals representing the national population. Since its inception in 2014, the UAS has conducted multiple online personality assessments of enrolled participants.

In the current study, the researchers categorized the period comprising the pandemic into the acute phase, which covers the period between March 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020, and the adaptation phase, which covers the period between January 1, 2021 and February 16, 2022. The study included 7,109 participants in the UAS who completed at least one personality assessment before the pandemic and another assessment during the acute or adaptive phase of the pandemic.

Compared to pre-pandemic levels, the researchers found that neuroticism decreased during the acute phase of the pandemic in 2020. However, this decrease in neuroticism did not last during the subsequent adaptation phase in 2021-2022, with levels of neuroticism in the adaptation phase being comparable. with those before the pandemic.

The other four personality traits showed an opposite trend from that seen in neuroticism. The levels of conscientiousness, friendliness, openness and extroversion during the acute phase of the pandemic did not differ from their levels before the pandemic. By contrast, levels of all four properties declined in 2021-2022 compared to their pre-pandemic levels.

Notably, the changes in the expression of these personality traits were similar to those normally observed during a decade of adulthood. The researchers noted that further research is needed to determine whether the changes in personality traits observed in 2021-2022 were permanent and to evaluate possible long-term outcomes.

The researchers further analyzed the data to examine the changes in personality traits between different age groups and ethnic/racial groups.

The researchers found the highest levels of decline in neuroticism in 2020 in participants aged 65 and older, followed by middle-aged individuals (30-64 years). However, the decrease in neuroticism in younger participants under 30 years of age did not reach significance during the acute phase.

Interestingly, younger adults showed higher levels of neuroticism in 2021-2022 than before the pandemic. Although the levels of the four remaining personality traits were lower in 2021-2022 among younger and middle-aged participants, the decline in friendliness and conscientiousness was more profound in younger participants. In contrast, levels of friendliness, conscientiousness, extroversion, and openness among older people in 2021-2022 were comparable to pre-pandemic levels.

These data suggest that younger adults were more sensitive to changes in personality traits than their middle-aged and older counterparts. In contrast, the personality of the elderly seemed to be more resilient to the effects of the pandemic.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Angelina Sutin, a professor at Florida State University, noted:

“The traits that showed the most change in younger adulthood – neuroticism and conscientiousness – are also those associated with many important outcomes, including educational and career success, relationships, and mental and physical health. The changes were relatively small, but the cumulative impact could be significant if the changes continue.”

Personality traits tend to consolidate during young adulthood as a person’s personality develops and matures. This could possibly explain why younger adults were more vulnerable to changes in personality traits in response to the pandemic. An alternative reason for these findings could be that the sources of stress (such as work- or school-related stress) associated with the pandemic may have been different for each age group.

Among ethnic/racial groups, the impact of the pandemic on the personality traits of Hispanic/Latino participants was different from that observed in non-Hispanic/Latino participants. For example, Hispanic/Latino participants showed greater declines in extroversion, conscientiousness, and openness than their non-Hispanic/Latino counterparts in 2021-2022. The researchers speculate that Hispanic/Latino participants may have experienced more stress from working outside the home and have an increased risk of COVID-19.

The study authors cautioned that the study had a few limitations. They pointed out that the number of participants from minority/ethnic groups was relatively small, which might have hindered the identification of changes in personality traits in these groups.

“The participants all lived in the United States, so it’s not known whether the patterns we found using this sample would be generalized to people living in other countries,” said Dr. Sutin, “In addition, we could only demonstrate change, not the reasons for the change. We also could not say whether the changes are temporary or permanent. More personality assessments are needed to answer that question.”

dr. Roberts also noted: “It is an observational study with no control group, so we cannot conclude from this study that the pandemic caused these changes. In addition, the authors did not explore possible alternative explanations for these changes during this time. The pandemic, while unique and ubiquitous, was not the only change to occur in the US during this period. There were upheavals on the social, political and economic fronts that could have also affected personality development during this period, especially among the young adults who appeared to be changing the most.”

Finally, the authors did not directly test whether the experience with COVID-19 itself could explain the results. Given the possibility that many of the participants suffered not only from COVID-19, but also from long-term Covid, it would be wise to test whether that experience itself could explain the results,” he added.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published.