Adults became less outgoing, open, agreeable and conscientious during the pandemic, a new study found.
the results, published Wednesday in the journal PLOS One, showed that the degree of change was roughly equivalent to a decade’s average personality changes. Young adults in particular became moodier, more emotional and more sensitive to stress in 2021 compared to previous years, according to the study.
Researchers analyzed survey results from more than 7,100 U.S. adults from January 2021 to February 2022 and compared their responses to responses prior to the pandemic, the period from March to December 2020, as well as responses from previous years .
The survey was based on Big Five traits, a common way researchers assess personalities. Participants were rated according to their levels of neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.
During the 2020 period, responses were fairly consistent with those collected before Covid emerged. But the researchers did see significant changes over the 2021-2022 period, suggesting that the collective stress of the pandemic affected people’s disposition over time.
Previous research has already shown that personalities can change as we age or develop new habits like exercising. Often, as people age, they become less neurotic, extroverted and outspoken, but more agreeable and conscientious, said Angelina Sutin, lead author of the study and a professor at Florida State University.
But from 2021 to 2022, adults ages 64 and younger experienced declines in extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Adults under the age of 30 also saw an increase in neuroticism in that period, although other age groups did not.
“Becoming more mature is decreasing neuroticism and increasing agreeableness and conscientiousness, and we see the opposite for younger adults in the second year of the pandemic,” Sutin said.
However, adults over the age of 65 did not see significant personality changes relative to the years before the pandemic.
“The older you get, the more sense of identity you have, the more embedded you are in your social roles. You know more about who you are, so things will affect you less in some way,” said Rodica Damian, an associate professor of social psychology at the University of Houston, who was not involved in the research.
William Revelle, a psychology professor at Northwestern University, noted that the observed personality changes could also be due, in part, to other social and political events that occurred during the time period studied.
“There was an election. There was a riot. There were big shootings and big protests,” said Revelle, who was also not involved in the study.
But he added that although it is impossible to separate those influences from the effects of the pandemic, “Covid was one of the main stressors that affected everyone, that was the main thing that kept people at home.”
Will these personality changes last?
Previous research has not found an association between exposure to natural disasters and personality changes. For example, A study suggested that, for the most part, the personalities of New Zealand residents remained relatively stable after the Christchurch earthquakes of 2010-2011. by Damian past investigations nor has it found an overall change in personality traits among those affected by major storms like Hurricane Harvey.
But the authors of the new study said the impact of Covid is different from that of a natural disaster.
“The coronavirus pandemic has affected the entire world and nearly every aspect of life,” they wrote.
Sutin said one possible reason personalities didn’t seem to change at the start of the pandemic is that there was a more upbeat attitude in 2020.
“Early in the pandemic, there was this emphasis on coming together, working together and supporting each other,” which may have made people feel more emotionally stable, Sutin said. “That’s something that fell apart in the second year.”
Damian also noted that personalities don’t change overnight, so it’s not surprising that researchers notice a difference after two years instead of one. For example, he said, someone might experience a gradual decline in extraversion if they avoid parties for two years.
“Suddenly your image of yourself has changed, your sense of identity has changed because you haven’t been to a party for so long that you’re not sure you can do it anymore,” Damian said.
Researchers aren’t sure whether adults will revert to their old personalities as the social and economic impacts of the pandemic wear off.
“We capture these traits at a point in time, so we don’t know if these are long-lasting or temporary changes,” Sutin said.
Still, she said, she is concerned about young adults, as their scores indicate they might be at higher risk for mental health problems, unhealthy eating or exercise habits, or increased challenges at school or work.
Neuroticism “is a very consistent predictor of mental health outcomes such as depression and anxiety,” Sutin said. And conscientiousness, which declined in that age group, “is very important for educational and employment outcomes, as well as for relationships and physical health,” she added.
Damian said it’s common to see the most dramatic changes in personality traits in adults between the ages of 18 and 25, as that’s when people typically take on new responsibilities and change their lifestyle when they go to college or get their first job. .
“If the personality changes they experienced have some sort of snowball effect because it’s a critical period of development, they may still see downsides later on,” Damian said.