COVID Has Brought About A Shift In Our Personalities; Here’s What Researchers Say
The COVID pandemic has left an indelible mark on our lives. Apart from the permanent grief of having lost loved ones, it has changed our social behaviour, our attitude to life, the way we think, eat, laugh, weep and also our reaction to different life situations.
A new study, published in PLOS ONE, has found that people were less extroverted, less open, less agreeable and less conscientious in 2021 and 2022 compared with before the pandemic. This study included more than 7,000 participants from the US, aged between 18 and 109, who were assessed before the pandemic (from 2014 onwards), early in the pandemic in 2020, and then later in the pandemic in 2021 or 2022.
At each time point, participants completed the “Big Five Inventory”. This assessment tool measures personality on a scale across five dimensions: extroversion versus introversion, agreeableness versus antagonism, conscientiousness versus lack of direction, neuroticism versus emotional stability, and openness versus closeness to experience.
There weren’t many changes between pre-pandemic and 2020 personality traits. However, the researchers found significant declines in extroversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness in 2021/2022 compared with before the pandemic. These changes were akin to a decade of normal variation, suggesting the trauma of the COVID pandemic had accelerated the natural process of personality change.
Marked change among young adults
Younger adults’ personalities changed the most according to the study. They showed a marked decline in agreeableness and conscientiousness, and a significant increase in neuroticism in 2021/2022 compared with pre-pandemic. This may be due in part to social anxiety when emerging back into society, having missed out on two years of normality.
Many people became more health-conscious during the pandemic, for example by eating better and doing more exercise. They sought whatever social connections they could find virtually and tried to refocus attention on psychological, emotional and intellectual growth – for example, by practising mindfulness or picking up new hobbies.
Nonetheless, mental health and well-being decreased significantly. This makes sense given the drastic changes we went through.
Personality significantly impacts our well-being. For example, people who report high levels of conscientiousness, agreeableness or extroversion are more likely to experience the highest level of wellbeing.
So the personality changes detected in this study may go some way to explaining the decrease in well-being we’ve seen during the pandemic.
If we look more closely, the pandemic appears to have negatively affected the following areas:
- Our ability to express sympathy and kindness towards others (agreeableness)
- Our capacity to be open to new concepts and willing to engage in novel situations (openness)
- Our tendency to seek out and enjoy other people’s company (extraversion)
- Our desire to strive towards our goals, do tasks well or take responsibilities towards others seriously (conscientiousness)
All of these traits influence our interaction with the environment around us, and as such, may have played a role in our well-being decline. For example, working from home may have left us feeling demotivated and as though our career was going nowhere (lower conscientiousness). This in turn may have affected our well-being by making us feel more irritable, depressed or anxious.
Participants in this study recorded changes in the opposite direction to the usual trajectory of personality change. This is understandable given that we faced an extended period of difficulties, including constraints on our freedoms, lost income and illness. All these experiences have evidently changed us and our personalities.