COVID-19 pandemic impact on personality traits

COVID-19 pandemic impact on personality traits

Changes in Personality Traits During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Insights from a Recent Study

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly had a significant impact on various aspects of our lives. From the way we work and socialize to our mental and physical well-being, the pandemic has reshaped the world as we know it. But could it also have affected our personality traits?

A recent study published in PLOS One sheds light on this intriguing question. The study examined changes in personality traits during the COVID-19 pandemic using a nationally representative sample. The findings revealed some interesting insights, suggesting that global events like the pandemic could potentially lead to changes in personality traits.

The Five-Factor Model of Personality

To better understand the study’s findings, let’s first delve into the five-factor model of personality. This widely used model describes personality based on the presence of five broad traits: extraversion, neuroticism, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness.

Traditionally, these personality traits were believed to remain relatively stable over a person’s adult life, largely unaffected by personal experience. However, previous research has shown that personal stressful events can influence these traits. Interestingly, studies examining the impact of collective stressful events, like natural disasters, have indicated a lack of change in personality traits.

The COVID-19 pandemic, with its global impact and influence on all aspects of life, presents a unique scenario. Early studies during the acute stages of the pandemic in 2020 suggested a decline in neuroticism. Individuals with generally higher anxiety levels seemed to experience lower anxiety levels during this period. However, data on the pandemic’s impact on other personality traits has been limited and contradictory. Moreover, there is limited information on the pandemic’s impact on personality traits beyond 2020.

Examining Personality Trait Changes During the Pandemic

To address these gaps in knowledge, the recent study utilized data from the Understanding America Study (UAS), a large and diverse internet panel consisting of approximately 9,500 individuals representing the national population. The UAS has collected multiple personality assessments since 2014, making it a valuable resource for studying the impact of the pandemic on personality traits.

The study categorized the pandemic period into an acute phase (March 1, 2020, to December 31, 2020) and an adaptation phase (January 1, 2021, to February 16, 2022). The researchers analyzed personality assessment data from 7,109 UAS participants who had completed assessments both before and during the pandemic.

The results of the study were intriguing. During the acute phase of the pandemic in 2020, levels of neuroticism decreased, indicating a positive shift in mental well-being. However, this decline was not sustained during the subsequent adaptation phase in 2021-2022, as neuroticism levels returned to pre-pandemic levels.

In contrast, the other four personality traits (conscientiousness, agreeableness, extraversion, and openness) showed a different trend. These traits did not differ significantly from pre-pandemic levels during the acute phase. However, during the adaptation phase, all four traits exhibited a decline compared to their pre-pandemic levels. It is important to note that these changes were similar to the normal changes observed in personality traits during a person’s young adulthood.

Vulnerability and Resilience Across Age Groups

The study also examined the impact of the pandemic on personality traits across different age groups. Younger individuals were found to be more susceptible to changes in personality traits during the pandemic compared to middle-aged and older individuals. Specifically, younger adults showed higher levels of neuroticism in 2021-2022 than before the pandemic.

Additionally, the decline in agreeableness and conscientiousness was more pronounced among younger participants, suggesting that the pandemic disrupted the personality development and maturation process normally observed during young adulthood. In contrast, older individuals exhibited similar levels of agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, and openness during 2021-2022 compared to pre-pandemic levels, indicating greater resilience to the effects of the pandemic.

Dr. Angelina Sutin, the study’s lead author and a professor at the Florida State University, emphasized the significance of these findings, stating that these traits are associated with important outcomes such as educational and career success, relationships, and mental and physical health. Though the changes observed were relatively small, the cumulative impact could be significant if they persist.

Implications and Limitations

These findings carry theoretical and practical implications. From a theoretical perspective, they challenge the notion that personality is fixed and impervious to change. Instead, they suggest that global events, like the COVID-19 pandemic, can indeed influence personality traits, potentially leading to long-term effects on mental and physical health outcomes.

However, it’s important to consider the study’s limitations. The number of participants from minoritized ethnic and racial groups was relatively small, which may have affected the ability to identify changes in personality traits within these groups. Moreover, the study focused on individuals living in the United States, and it remains unknown whether the observed patterns would generalize to people in other countries.

Dr. Roberts, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, highlighted that this was an observational study without a control group. Multiple changes were occurring during the same time period, including social, political, and economic upheavals, which could have also influenced personality development. Further research is needed to establish causality and explore alternative explanations.

In conclusion, the recent study sheds light on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on personality traits. The findings indicate changes in neuroticism and other personality traits during different phases of the pandemic. Younger adults seem to be more vulnerable to these changes, highlighting the importance of understanding the long-term implications for their mental and physical well-being. Future research should explore the lasting effects of these changes and examine potential interventions to support individuals during times of global crises.