It’s safe to say that the pandemic has changed a lot for us, from working from home to virtual parties over Zoom, but could those changes go even deeper? A new study shows that COVID-19 has actually changed some of our personalities for the worse.
According to the study, which was published in PLOS One, young adults experienced a change in personality from 2021 to 2022 that was roughly equivalent to an entire decade’s worth of personality changes.
The study analyzed changes using a common tool to analyze personality: the Big Five traits. The traits that make up the Big Five are neuroticism, extroversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness.
According to past research, as people become adults, they become more agreeable and conscientious while becoming less extroverted, neurotic and open. Now, researchers have decided to look at how the stress of the pandemic may have affected those shifts in personality.
Researchers analyzed survey results from more than 7,100 adults in the United States aged 18 to 109. These surveys were taken in 2020, 2021 and 2022, and were compared to years pre-dating COVID-19.
In 2020, peoples’ personalities didn’t see much change, but as researchers delved into the results from 2021 to 2022, they found some pretty significant changes.
As a result of the ongoing pandemic, adults aged 18 to 64 became less agreeable, extroverted and conscientious between 2021 and 2022. Adults under 30 experienced even more change, becoming more neurotic during that time period.
Researchers found that these shocking personality shifts that took place across just two years were consistent with what would usually be a decade’s worth of changes. Due to the drastic nature of these shifts, researchers are on edge because young adults’ mental health and personal lives may be negatively affected, especially considering conscientiousness is essential in forming positive relationships and succeeding in the workplace.
Personality is less stable in young adults
“Becoming more mature is declining in neuroticism and increasing in agreeableness and conscientiousness, and we see the opposite for younger adults in the second year of the pandemic,” Angela Sutin, lead author of the study, told Global News. She even went on to assert that neuroticism “is a very consistent predictor of mental health outcomes like depression and anxiety.”
Adults over the age of 65, on the other hand, didn’t experience significant personality shifts, likely because they have a more concrete sense of self.
“Personality is less stable in young adults,” Sutin explained of the discrepancy to CNN. “But then at the same time, the pandemic disrupted what young adults are supposed to be doing. They’re supposed to be in school or starting their careers or transitioning into careers. They’re supposed to be going out and forming relationships.”
Sutin also suggests that people’s personalities didn’t experience drastic changes in 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic because there was more of an effort to come together and support the people around you.
“That’s something that kind of fell apart in the second year,” she said.