Despite a long-standing hypothesis that personality traits remain relatively stable over most of a person’s adult life, the COVID-19 pandemic may have altered personalities, especially in younger adults, according to a new study published this week in the open-access journal, PLOS ONE.
Previous studies have generally found no associations between collective stressful events—such as earthquakes and hurricanes—and personality change. However, the coronavirus pandemic has affected the entire globe and nearly every aspect of life.
The study compared five-factor model personality traits:
- Neuroticism — a tendency for persistent and excessive pessimism and anxiety
- Extraversion — a tendency for outgoing, energetic, and assertive behaviors
- Openness— a tendency to be curious, imaginative, and open-minded
- Agreeableness— a tendency to be empathetic, friendly, compliant, and trustworthy
- Conscientiousness — a tendency to be organized, self-disciplined, responsible, and hard-working
These personality traits generally remain stable over an adult’s lifetime and are generally unaffected by personal experience. However, there were declines in extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness when 2021-2022 data was compared to pre-pandemic personality. The changes were about one-tenth of a standard deviation, which is equivalent to about one decade of normative personality change.
The changes were moderated by age, with younger adults showing disrupted maturity in the form of increased neuroticism and decreased agreeableness and conscientiousness, and the oldest group of adults showing no statistically significant changes in traits.
The study’s lead author, Dr. Angelina Sutin, a professor at the Florida State University, noted, “The traits that showed the most change in younger adulthood – neuroticism and conscientiousness – are also the traits that are 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 persist.”
Time will tell what other effects the COVID pandemic has had on us. “While we all know that the pandemic has been a life-altering event for all of us, scientists are still trying to understand the ways in which that array of stressors has affected us and what the implications are for our health and for the functioning of our society,” stated Dr. Timothy Sullivan, the chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Staten Island University Hospital, part of Northwell Health in New York.
Sources: eurekalert.org; healthline.com; medicalnewstoday.com