How The Pandemic Potentially Changed Young Adults’ Personality 

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The impacts of the recent pandemic, both on humans and how we go about our lives, have been and continue to be felt around the world. It has vastly altered how we live, specifically accentuating the shift to the digital world. Over the past two years, the world has seen a shift in how we communicate, care for others, educate our children, work, and more. But these changes and discoveries about the pandemic and how it has affected us do not seem to be ending any time soon.

As time goes by, researchers continue to discover something new about the implications of the pandemic in our lives. It is a known and widely experienced reality that almost everyone’s psychological well-being has taken a hit from the pandemic. Interestingly, recent findings from the study published in the journal PLOS One demonstrated that the pandemic may have also changed the personality, particularly of young adults. 

The study used longitudinal personality tests from the Understanding America Study to examine how people’s personalities changed before and during the coronavirus outbreak (UAS). The results imply that a significant worldwide event affected personality at the population level, which may have consequences for personality-related long-term outcomes.

Examining How The Pandemic Stunts Young Adults’ Personality Development

The impact of the coronavirus epidemic on psychological consequences has drawn attention ever since it first emerged. For instance, much research looked at how loneliness, social support, and symptoms of depression and anxiety altered from before the pandemic. The pandemic may have affected more universal ways of thinking, feeling, and acting in addition to dimensions of mental and social well-being (i.e., personality).

Although personality traits are typically stable over time, they are theoretically considered susceptible to environmental factors, particularly stressful experiences. The coronavirus pandemic has provided a rare chance to investigate how a major stressful event that affects the entire community can alter personality. Less evidence exists, though, to suggest that the other characteristics changed from before to after the epidemic.

By examining survey data from more than 7,100 U.S. adults from January to February 2022 and contrasting their replies to those from earlier in the epidemic, from March to December 2020, as well as to responses from previous years, the researchers of the PLOS One study sought to close this gap.

The Big Five qualities, a popular method used by researchers to assess personality, served as the basis for the poll. Participants were given a score based on how neurotic, extroverted, open, pleasant, and conscientious they were.

The responses within the 2020 time frame were largely consistent with those received before the COVID outbreak. However, the researchers saw significant alterations between 2021 and 2022, indicating that the pandemic’s cumulative stress had a long-term impact on people’s dispositions.

The study’s findings imply that the epidemic may reverse people’s normal psychological development. The current study found that even after controlling for projected changes, individuals’ personalities changed on average by approximately a decade in just three years, but not in an anticipated way. The biggest shift in some characteristics was seen in young adults. Adults between the ages of 30 and 64 demonstrated a greater change in all traits. Meanwhile, elderly folks’ personalities remained virtually unaltered.

According to the researchers, maturing involves a decrease in neuroticism and an increase in agreeableness and conscientiousness. Still, the study’s results show the opposite is true for younger adults in the second year of the epidemic.

Previous studies have shown that personalities can alter as we get older or pick up new habits like working out. Psychological maturation is the process through which people change as they age, becoming less neurotic, extroverted, and open while becoming more agreeable and conscientious.

However, according to the responses, extroversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness declined from 2021 to 2022 among persons aged 64 and under. While other age groups did not experience an increase in neuroticism then, adults under 30 did.

Given that these characteristics predict various long-term problems, the researchers admit that the study’s findings can be alarming. For instance, high neuroticism is associated with mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Furthermore, a lack of conscientiousness is associated with subpar relationships, health, employment, and education results.

Further research will be required to see whether these personality changes last. Other noteworthy collective events that happened during this time should also be noted. That could have influenced the changes that were seen. More research is required to determine whether and how certain experiences may have influenced personality change.

Journal Reference

Sutin, A. R., Stephan, Y., Luchetti, M., Aschwanden, D., Lee, J. H., Sesker, A. A., & Terracciano, A. (2022). Differential personality change earlier and later in the coronavirus pandemic in a longitudinal sample of adults in the United States. PLOS ONE, 17(9). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0274542

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