As scientists continue to study the overall and long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, they are discovering some interesting things. Recently, a new study found that the pandemic has significantly impacted people’s mental health more than previously thought. This particular study focused on how the pandemic had changed core personality traits that were usually considered to be permanent.
How Core Personality Traits Are Defined
It’s generally accepted that your core personality traits develop and change as you age but become fairly cemented during young adulthood.
Experts use what is known as a five-factor model of personality to categorize these traits and how they relate to actions or feelings. They’re broken down as:
- Extraversion — this typically relates to outgoing, energetic, and assertive behaviors
- Neuroticism — this typically relates to persistent and excessive pessimism and anxiety
- Conscientiousness — this typically relates to being organized, self-disciplined, responsible, and hard-working
- Agreeableness — this typically relates to being empathetic, friendly, compliant, and trustworthy
- Openness — this typically relates to being curious, imaginative, and open-minded
Since the model was created, it was widely shown and accepted that personality traits remain fairly stable over time regardless of personal experiences.
At most, you might have a slight increase in conscientiousness and agreeableness as well as a decrease in neuroticism, openness, and extraversion.
What Happened During The Pandemic?
When conducting their study, researchers found that people were experiencing significant shifts in their personality traits during the pandemic. This development was interesting because there is little evidence of this happening before.
In fact, a study was conducted after a major earthquake and the results showed that there were no notable shifts in their traits afterward.
While there are plans to investigate further, the researchers surmise that these personality changes may have occurred because of the length of the pandemic and other negative outcomes associated with it such as the loss of loved ones, health scares, job loss, etc.
Who Was Affected?
According to the study, older adults were hit the hardest at the start of the pandemic. That demographic included those over the age of 65. Those who were between the ages of 30 and 64 were a close second.
Approximately a year into the pandemic, however, those numbers changed. The most affected group became those between the ages of 18 and 29.
Interestingly, researchers found that while younger adults had higher levels of neuroticism before the pandemic, they suffered from a decline in conscientiousness and agreeableness from 2021 to 2022.
Additionally, middle-aged people remained the second most affected group and felt the same effects as young adults. On the other hand, older adults showed signs of returning to their usual pre-pandemic personality traits.
When researchers studied the ethnic breakdown of the pandemic’s effect on personality traits, they found that non-white persons might have more significant changes than white people.
How Experts Think You Should Handle It
You might be wondering why anyone would care about personality changes in the first place. Well, studies show that your personality traits have an impact on certain aspects of your life. For example, neuroticism and conscientiousness are associated with doing well in relationships, careers, and educational ventures. Those traits can also influence your overall physical and mental health.
The general concern is that if those who’ve been affected do nothing, they could experience a variety of problems later in life. Though the changes are significant, they don’t have to be permanent. Health experts suggest that you talk to a therapist or counselor to assess how you’ve been affected by the pandemic. Since older adults were able to rebound over time, young and middle-aged adults can return to their pre-pandemic personality traits as well.
Given everything that has happened, it might not surprise you that the pandemic has changed anyone’s personality traits. Fortunately, it’s not difficult to learn how to handle and cope with these changes. Apart from taking care of your health, it can help to talk to a therapist so you can have the skills you need.