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Did our personalities change during the pandemic?

Population-wide stressful events can alter the trajectory of personality, especially in young adults.

The COVID-19 pandemic affected the entire world. Most of us now alive had never experienced anything like it before it happened, and probably might not experience anything like it ever again either. Every aspect of life as we knew it changed. And that might include a part of ourselves too, according to a recent study.

Even as most of the world continues to bounce back to some level of normalcy, this research, whose results were published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE in September, seems to suggest that the pandemic might have even changed our personalities. The study conducted by researchers at the Florida State University College of Medicine states that the pandemic may have altered the trajectory of personality, especially in young adults.

Impact of stressful events

There is a long-standing hypothesis that states that personality traits are impervious to environmental pressures. Previous studies have shown that there no associations between collective stressful events such as earthquakes and hurricanes, and personality change. The researchers of this study set out to find out how it was with the COVID-19 pandemic.

For this, they used longitudinal assessments of personality from over 7,000 people enrolled in the online Understanding America Study. While the age group of the participants ranged up to 109, nearly 60% of the participants were female.

Five traits compared

The researchers compared five-factor model personality traits between pre-pandemic measurements (May 2014- February 2020) and those taken early (March- December 2020) and later (2021-22) in the pandemic. The five traits included neuroticism (trait disposition to experience negative effects such as anger, anxiety, irritability, etc.), extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Over 18,000 assessments were analysed. While there were relatively few changes between the pre-pandemic and early pandemic traits, there was a marked difference in the measurements. The researchers noticed declines in extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness that were statistically equivalent to a decade of personality change.

When the results were moderated by age, it was clear that the oldest group showed no statistically significant changes in traits, while the youngest were most affected. The researchers conclude that if these changes endure, then it implies that population-wide stressful events can alter the trajectory of personality, especially in young adults.
Picture Credit : Google 

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