COVID-19 Caused Many Changes, Including Our Personalities

A new study published in PLOS One shows that COVID-19 caused many changes, including adjustments to our personality traits. These impact everything from how open we are to how agreeable we may be in certain situations. 

In the study, participants in the United States were asked to answer 44 questions about character traits using the Big Five Inventory. The Big Five, also called the five-factor model, measures five specific personality traits (per Fetzer Institute). These are neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Subjects answered questions in 2020 and again in 2021-2022 after extended lockdowns and social alterations swept the globe. All participants had measured these personality traits prior to the pandemic response, which provided a baseline measurement for researchers to compare new results (per CNN). 

Overall, the researchers behind the study were surprised by the results they found — specifically how they pertained to changes in personality. Here are some of the notable observations they made.

The profound implications for younger adults

The 2022 study in PLOS One divided respondents into three groups — young adults, middle-aged adults, and older adults. Study results showed that neuroticism decreased slightly in 2020, especially in middle-aged and older adults. However, after nearly a year of lockdowns, neuroticism climbed above pre-pandemic levels in 2021-2022 and spiked in younger adults. Younger adults were also twice as likely as middle-aged adults to become significantly less agreeable and less conscientious in 2021-2022, compared to 2020 and pre-pandemic. All ages showed less extraversion and openness. 

Dr. Timothy Sullivan, chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Staten Island University Hospital, told Healthline that the study's results represent "a striking disruption of young adult maturational patterns, which, if sustained, could have profound implications for that generation." 

However, COVID-19 wasn't the only factor that may have led to changes in the Big Five for many people. Extreme and widespread social and political division across the U.S. likely exerted some influence on people's personality changes. 

"As the pandemic evolves into a chronic endemic, it's important that we all be aware of what impact this added stressor is having on our personalities," psychiatrist Dr. David A. Merrill told Healthline. "Staying aware of the need for compassion toward ourselves and each other in the face of chronic stress can help maintain a positive outlook."