Has the pandemic changed our personalities? According to a study of thousands of Americans, it was just like that: two years of the pandemic have “weighed” on our psyche like ten and there have been changes in extroversion and conscientiousness, especially among those under 30.
Despite the longstanding hypothesis that personality traits are relatively susceptible to environmental pressures, all studies conducted before Covid had found no association between stressful events such as earthquakes and hurricanes and a real change in the disposition of survivors. However, the coronavirus has affected the entire globe in almost every aspect of life, and the consequences have exceeded all expectations.
The study: the differences between 2014 and 2020
The study conducted by the doctor Angelina Name Florida State University College of Medicine and colleagues was just published in Plos One and looked at the personality changes of 7109 people enrolled in the Understanding America Study. The analysis was based on the “Big Five” model, an assessment of personality according to the perceived levels of extroversion and introversion, agreeableness and unpleasantness, conscientiousness and neglect, neuroticism and emotional stability, mental openness and closure, and compared the responses recorded between May 2014 and February 2020 and then subsequently the pandemic.
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The heaviest consequences on the under 30s
“The changes due to Covid were about a tenth of a standard deviation, which is equivalent to a decade of evolution of one’s personality”, explains Sutin, underlining the weight that the pandemic has had on our characters, especially among the under 30s. “While no statistically significant changes were found among the over 65s, young adults experienced a sort of interrupted maturity, coupled with an increase in neuroticism and a parallel decrease in agreeableness and conscientiousness.”
Changes in the daily routine
Measures introduced around the world to limit the spread of Covid have brought huge changes to our daily routines. We think of smartworking, unknown to most, as well as distance learning and the lack of physical contact with family, friends and colleagues. All added to the fear of contracting the virus and the concern for particularly vulnerable people.
It took some getting used to and for some that challenge was more impactful, with long-term consequences. In fact, in the comparison between the pre- and post-pandemic results, a decline in extroversion and mental openness is especially evident. ‘We don’t know if these changes will be permanent, but our research suggests that major stressful events that interfere with personal freedom and health can slightly change the personality trajectory of those affected,’ she continues.
More noticeable worsening since 2021
What is surprising is that “at the beginning the changes were very limited and surprisingly there was also an increase in emotional stability. restrictions – they have become more moody and prone to stress, less collaborative and confident, less balanced and responsible “.
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The pandemic was an unprecedented opportunity to examine whether personality could be affected by a stressful event globally. And “this decline is particularly striking against the background of other mental health research that found an increase in symptoms of depression, anxiety and psychological distress during the first year of the pandemic – continues the researcher -. The fear and uncertainty caused by the pandemic. could provide a reason for such feelings. The decline in neuroticism we recorded might seem counterintuitive, but instead it is justifiable in actions such as compliance with anti-contagion rules: washing hands, maintaining distance and using masks reassured a wide range of people, making them feel more protected.
The sense of belonging? Momentary
The isolation, then, has led to a greater focus on one’s physical and mental health. It is also possible that the greater social cohesion at the start of the pandemic – the fact that everyone feels in the same boat, even if at a distance – has brought a greater sense of belonging which has decreased a predisposition towards anxiety, as well as re-evaluating the their previous levels of fear and anxiety. “But with the passage of time and the prolongation of the pandemic,” the beneficial effect on emotional stability has dissipated, resulting in the significant decline of the other four pillars. ”
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Differences between introverts and extroverts
Confirming this trend is also another study conducted by the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine, also published in Plos One. In this case, the sample was only 500 students, but found similar behavior in the first six months of the pandemic. For introverts, the mood has even improved, leading to a lower level of stress and greater awareness, quality of sleep and care for their body. For the extroverts, however, it was more difficult to comply with the new rules, and this led to an inexorable decline in mood and prospects for the future.