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Could Covid have changed people’s personalities?

November 18, 2022

New research suggests the impact of the Covid pandemic may have been so deep that it has altered people’s personalities.

New research suggests the impact of the Covid pandemic may have been so deep that it has changed people’s personalities.

While psychologists have previously failed to connect personality changes to collective stress events such as natural disasters, scientists at Florida State University of Medicine believe the combination of losses experienced and prolonged social isolation have made a measurable impact on some people.

Using assessments that were repeated at various times before and during the pandemic, the Understanding America Study captured data from 7,109 individuals aged 18 to 109.

Participants were given a widely used personality test that measures five traits – neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness.

During the first phase of the pandemic (March to December 2020), personality was relatively stable, with only a small decline in neuroticism compared with pre-pandemic.

This could be down to Covid providing a reason for feelings of anxiety and making it less likely for people to blame their disposition, the authors suggested.

While the reduction in neuroticism had disappeared by the second half of the pandemic (2021-2022), it was replaced by declines in extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness compared to pre-pandemic personality.

The changes were about one-tenth of a standard deviation, equivalent to the size of fluctuation typically seen over a decade of life. Younger adults showed the biggest changes, and the oldest group of adults had no significant changes in traits.

According to the authors, personality tends to be more malleable in younger adults and the pandemic may have also had a more negative impact on this age group as it disrupted normal tasks such as school, the transition into the workforce, developing relationships and being sociable.

However, this is purely speculative as the study did not measure the reasons for the change and the researchers will continue monitoring the cohort to see whether the personality shifts are temporary or more enduring.

Related: Could lockdown be deadlier than Covid?

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