Has your personality changed with the pandemic?

The pandemic has come to disrupt our lives, our way of working and socializing. But what about our personality? While our character traits are supposed to remain nearly identical throughout our lives, a study published in the journal PLOS One and reported on NPR points to several changes in the American population.

At the start of the Covid-19 crisis, researchers had already identified a counterintuitive variation in characters from the United States. Unexpectedly, a decrease in neuroticism, the propensity to feel negative emotions, had been observed.

To understand the impact of subsequent years, the team of Angelina Sutin, an assistant professor of behavioral sciences at Florida State University College of Medicine, looked at three main periods: before the pandemic, during the first lockdown of 2020, and in 2021/2022. He used the Big Five, a famous psychology model that measures five core personality traits: neuroticism (stress), extraversion (connectedness with others), openness (creativity and originality), agreeableness (trustworthiness, altruism), and conscientiousness (discipline, organization).

As expected, the results revealed that extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness decreased as the health crisis dragged on. In other words, we are witnessing a decline in the characteristics that help us manage our social relationships. This is particularly evident among young adults.

Angelina Sutin explains this conclusion in a simple way: “The support disappeared over time and then hostilities started as the restrictions advanced. In addition, the daily life of young people has been greatly disrupted; school, socialization, work. Adult life was much more stable in general.”

Long-term consequences?

According to Joshua Jackson, an associate professor of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis, the negative effects can persist in younger people, which is a downside: “Kindness and conscientiousness are factors associated with professional and relationship success.”

While these results are significant at the US population level, they should be taken with a grain of salt at the individual level, especially since this study does not have a comparison group (it would have required that individuals not have experienced a pandemic at the same time). In addition, other changes occurred during this same period, such as the transition to teleworking or an increase in social stratification, which could also have influenced personality.

Before you blame your bad mood on your health crisis, remember that your personality traits are resilient in the long run. Even better, the drawbacks are surely not permanent.

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