The pandemic may have changed our personalities, say researchers

While we often view personality as a fixed entity, a new study suggests the COVID-19 pandemic may have left a subtle but enduring mark on some aspects of our personalities. Published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, the research suggests that while significant personality changes weren’t widespread, conscientiousness levels generally increased throughout the pandemic, while extraversion dipped slightly. Interestingly, openness to new experiences remained relatively stable.

Researchers from the universities of Toronto and Washington followed over 500 participants in the United States across multiple data collection waves between March 2020 and December 2021. They assessed personalities using the Big Five Inventory, a well-established psychological measure, and also tracked participants’ stress levels, experiences with the pandemic’s disruptions, and overall well-being.

The study delves deeper, revealing intriguing shifts within specific timeframes. Extraversion, for instance, showed a decrease in the early months (March-July 2020), potentially reflecting a shift in social behavior as lockdowns and social distancing became the norm. Conversely, conscientiousness rose between July 2020 and April 2021, which the researchers suggest could be due to a heightened focus on health and safety measures during that period.

The research goes a step further, identifying a link between personality changes and well-being later in the pandemic. Participants who exhibited increases in conscientiousness, extraversion, and agreeableness also reported improvements in mental and physical health. It’s important to note that the study can’t definitively establish whether these changes caused better health or vice versa. However, it offers valuable insights into the potential two-way street between major life events and personality development.

The findings add to our understanding of the pandemic’s psychological impact. They reveal that even a large-scale global crisis can have subtle yet lasting effects on how we approach the world and interact with others. This research paves the way for further exploration in this area, allowing psychologists to delve deeper into the complex interplay between personality and life experiences, particularly during periods of immense social and personal upheaval.