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Has the pandemic changed our personalities?

The COVID-19 pandemic may have altered the trajectory of personality across the US – especially in younger adults – according to a new study.

Previous research has generally found no associations between collective stressful events, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, and personality change.

In the new study, the researchers used longitudinal assessments of personality from 7109 people enrolled in the online Understanding America Study.

They compared five-factor model personality traits–neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness – between pre-pandemic measurements (May 2014–February 2020) and assessments early (March–December 2020) or later (2021–2022) in the pandemic. A total of 18,623 assessments, or a mean of 2.62 per participant, were analysed. Participants were 41.2% male and ranged in age from 18 to 109.

There were relatively few changes between pre-pandemic and 2020 personality traits, with only a small decline in neuroticism.

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 – the 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 authors conclude that if these changes are enduring, it suggests that population-wide stressful events can slightly bend the trajectory of personality, especially in younger adults.

Image Credit | iStock


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