TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The COVID-19 pandemic may have changed people’s personalities, according to new research.
Although the global health crisis only started in 2020, a team from the Florida State University College of Medicine says the changes are equivalent to how a person’s personality changes normally over a 10-year period.
Previous studies have generally found no association between stressful events affecting many people, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, and personality change. However, since the pandemic affected the entire world and almost every aspect of life, researchers believe it has changed the way we think, feel, and behave.
The authors add that younger adults have been most affected and have become more neurotic, more prone to stress, and less cooperative.
Publishing their results in the journal PLoS ONE, the researchers, led by Dr. Angelina Sutin, assessed the personalities of 7,109 people enrolled in the Understanding America Study online.
They compared how traits such as neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness differed between pre-pandemic (May 2014 to February 2020), early pandemic (March to December 2020), and the pandemic’s later period (2021 and 2022).
Did the pandemic change older adults as well?
The participants (41.2% male) ranged in age from 18 to 109. The researchers analyzed a total of 18,523 personality assessments, a mean of 2.62 per participant. Consistent with other studies, there were relatively few changes between the pre-pandemic and 2020 personality traits, with only a small decline in neuroticism.
However, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness all declined when the team compared 2021-2022 data to pre-pandemic personalities. Younger adults showed increased neuroticism and decreased agreeableness and conscientiousness, while the oldest group of adults displayed no statistically significant changes in traits.
The authors conclude that if these changes last, it suggests that population-wide stressful events can slightly bend the trajectory of personality development, especially among younger adults.
“There was limited personality change early in the pandemic but striking changes starting in 2021. Of most note, the personality of young adults changed the most, with marked increases in neuroticism and declines in agreeableness and conscientiousness. That is, younger adults became moodier and more prone to stress, less cooperative and trusting, and less restrained and responsible,” study authors conclude in a media release.
South West News Service writer Danny Halpin contributed to this report.