And a new study shows that the pandemic may have changed our personalities as well.
Psychologists have long believed that a person’s traits remain essentially the same, even after stressful events.
But by looking at pre-pandemic levels of personality traits such as neuroticism, extroversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness, and comparing them to data collected in 2021 and 2022, the researchers found significant changes in personality among the U.S. population, according to the study. .
The pandemic was “an unprecedented opportunity to learn how a stressful collective event can affect personality,” said study lead author Angelina Soutin, a professor of medicine at Florida State University.
The study, published Wednesday in the journal “PLOS One,” showed that traits of extroversion, agreeableness and conscientiousness all declined in the US population during the two years following the onset of the pandemic, especially among young people.
As for why young people are most affected, Sutin replied that the cause cannot be known for sure, but there are theories.
Temperament is less stable in young people, but at the same time the pandemic has upset what young people should be doing, such as going to school or starting their career, according to Sutin.
Soutine said the results aren’t accurate for every person, but rather a look at the demographics, so it’s no surprise if you don’t see the same change in yourself or the people closest to you.
Brent Roberts, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the US state of Illinois, who was not involved in the study, said there are also some caveats to the data.
Given the lack of a target group and the lack of research into other potential explanations, Roberts found it difficult to say whether the pandemic would cause these changes.
What’s behind the results?
The researchers collected data from over 7,000 people between the ages of 18 and 109 who participated online in a study called “Understanding America.” or 2022, according to the study.
They examined the data through the five-factor model, which assumes that several personality traits can be attributed to one of the five general traits of neuroticism, extroversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.
Researchers found a downward trend in neuroticism in 2020, across the entire participating population, but the changes were small, according to Souten.
Once the data for 2021 and 2022 were considered, the researchers observed more significant drops in extroversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness.
And the change was big enough to amount to about a decade of change, according to the study.
Sutin noted that conscientiousness is important for academic and career achievement, as well as relationships and physical health.
“The increase in neuroticism and the decrease in conscientiousness would mean that this group would be more prone to mental and physical health problems,” Roberts explained.
The questions remain
A less open, compliant and conscientious society may not look promising, but experts say there is still a lot of work to be done to determine how these findings might affect the future.
Sutin said that while the researchers note the changes, they can’t say how long the personality difference might last or whether it will return to how it was before.
What can be learned from the study is that “the personality, while robust, is not static and can respond to changes in the environment,” explains Roberts.
He added that as there have been changes in society and in the ways people cope, it is clear that the pandemic has been difficult for everyone.
He continued: “In other words, (people) are not crazy, they have been difficult years for all of us, to the point where it has little effect on our personality.”