The pandemic has left personality changes ‘for the worse’

Do you feel that you have lost amiability? do you act with less empathy? do you feel more neurotic or neurotic than in 2019? You are not the only person. Not surprisingly, but one study, published in PLoS ONEHe has detected personality changes in the last two years of the pandemic in a significant number of people.

This is relevant, because traditionally in psychology “it is understood that it’s hard to change personality”, says the psychologist Silvia Alava Deaf. To limit definitions: ‘personality’ is a category that defines us from a component biological “or genetic, which we associate with temperament, and another environmental, which can change”. It stems from behavior.

It is something different from behaviour, which seems evident to have mutated in the last two years. We could cite as many testimonies as there are people in a country. You yourself could relate your experience: either you began to make bread –something that you did not do before–; or to eat better; or to drink more alcohol; or to go out less –when it was allowed–. But, for example, you will hardly have changed your personality to leave your beloved and predictable office job to dedicate yourself to traveling the world in a self-made hot air balloon, even if you are afraid of flying… Or yes.

No, we don’t come out better

In personality, there are five traits that are presupposed slightly changeable over time and some, rather alien to our experiences, although not completely. Has the impact of the pandemic been collectively and individually so brutal that personality changes have occurred?

The idea is that the pandemic has turned us ‘into other people’ for certain traits. “The calls big five in psychology: neuroticism, extroversion, openness to the new and empathy or responsibilityalthough we could consider others”, clarifies Álava, who has not participated in this new study.

Personality is considered something stable, not easily changed by stressful events like catastrophes.

And here are the details of the study: the team that developed it, from Florida State University (USA) led by Angelina Namehighlights that “in a pandemic, the personality of the young adults was the one that changed the mostwith marked increases in the neuroticism y declines in agreeableness and ‘conscientiousness’ or empathy”. This last term is understood here as a certain awareness of our actions, something close to self control o responsibility or, said in certain colloquial contexts, ‘cut a hair’ in a pandemic.


The analyzed subjects, some 7,000 Americans, tended to become “more moody and stress-prone, less cooperative or trusting, and less restrained and responsible.” But 2020 was not the same as 2021. In the second year of the pandemic, more young people got fed up before and they acknowledged being less empathic, for example.

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More neurotic, less empathetic… It sounds like that 2020 slogan of «we will come out better«. In perspective, psychologist Sarai Fernández (Clinical Psychology Center) believes that statement could only have made sense from the point of view of resilience. But even with this sense, “we have reached the limit to overcome.”

In his view “no, we haven’t come out better peopleI think we had it very clear. We are social animals. When we stop training those social skills, we lose that emotional ‘muscle mass.’ This is especially noticeable in the “trait of neuroticism (the trait most closely linked to the state of mental health), especially in adolescents, who are in social learning.” Many of them have lived the passage from childhood to adolescence locked up or with a socialization almost limited to screens. That marks.

Change in personality in pandemic
Personality change due to the pandemic | MV

From the University of Medicine and Health in Ireland, psychologist Jolanta Burke points out that “the personality changes detected in this study may explain in some way the decrease in well-being that we have seen during the pandemic.”

An unprecedented collective impact, “not even a war”

The study is complex. And no less complex is drawing hot conclusions; the pandemic is not even over. We play with these five universal features but with local nuances. How are these things measured? The psychiatrist explains it at the Hospital Clínic de Barcelona Joaquim Raduàof IDIBAPS in the SMC of Spain: “Personality tests assess a person’s tendency to show similar behaviors in different contexts. For example, to measure your extraversion they ask you if you tend to talk to others in most situations, if you are usually sociable, etc. We can all feel more talkative one day and more reserved another. But a person with high extraversion tends to be talkative or sociable most of the time.”

In general, previous studies had not detected associations between stressful events collective (earthquakes, hurricanes, etc.) and the change of personality. However, the coronavirus pandemic has affected the whole world and almost all aspects of life, says Dr. Álava.

“Studies done in Extreme situations they are the ones that allow you to see changes, minimal, but they are there”, he points out. “The pandemic had something unique. We lock ourselves up practically all of us on the planet. Humanity was equally threatened. Not even its impact is like that of a war. Wars are stressful for those who experience them, but they do not have a global impact, ”she points out.

Nor is it comparable to other high-impact calamities. “In natural catastrophes, the emergency psychology Sarai Fernandez remembers. Create a trauma of a single moment, personal or vicarious; just like terrorism, like 11-M. There are people who acquired a trauma from seeing it on TV, developing a fear of taking the train”. It is different from one pandemic, new, sustained and changing. “In the end, we have satiety”.

For the authors of the study, we have had to change so many ways of relating to each other that, in the end, this has led to a change in personality. “small but significant”. And that goes for ages. And 2020 was not the same as 2021.

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The change in personality in the pandemic was more noticeable in young people

Sutin’s team did analyzes before the pandemic (May 2014 and February 2020), evaluations at the beginning of the crisis (March to December 2020), and after (2021-2022). 18,623 assessments were analyzed (an average of 2.62 per participant, all of them of legal age).

Consistent with other studies, there was relatively little change between pre-pandemic and 2020 personality traits, with only a small decrease in neuroticism. “Normally, as we get older we tend to score lower on that trait, we have more stability,” explains Álava. However, they have been seen decreases in extraversion, agreeableness, and empathy when data from 2021-2022 was compared to pre-pandemic personality.

In 2020, people ‘cut more’, had more responsibility. That changed in 2021, where ‘keeping the forms’ in young people collapsed, but not only.

In this study, the changes were nearly one-tenth of a standard deviation, which is about a decade of normative personality change, according to Professor Sutin. The worst part seems to have been taken by the younger people. The older adult group did not show statistically significant changes in traits.

In fact, those over 65 they ‘became’ if anything a little friendlier. But the empathy section stands out, here understood as ‘self-containment’. Those under 30 hit a sharp change in 2021, not in 2020. They recognized that in what more varied was in ‘having fewer scruples‘, of the order of 10 times less than those over 65, who also showed a lower ability to contain themselves. “It makes sense, linked to the response to the restrictions,” interprets Álava.

For his part, together with his psychologist colleague Miquel Ángel Fullana, Dr. Raduà believes that “the results of this study, if replicated, could indicate that with the pandemic people changed some of their usual behaviors” and with them, personality. But the key is whether those changes they came to stay.

Is it a pandemic thing or is there something else?

Let us distinguish, once again, behaviors of personality. Behaviors, in the long run, also define us. “For some older people, video calls opened a window to the world (which they have maintained), cushioning some isolations,” Álava points out. But you have to be careful, because in younger people, familiar with social networks, an increase in loneliness has been detected.

Metro aggression Madrid eyeMetro aggression Madrid eye
Metro travel in Madrid during the pandemic | Wirestock

Road two and a half years after confinement, “we found more hostile behavior, above all”, explains Fernández from his experience. There is “more irascibility” and also “more depressive symptomatology”. But that does not imply that we have definitely become more neurotic, less empathetic, more introverted and less open. “Longer-term studies should be done.”

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The authors conclude that if these personality changes from the pandemic are long-lasting, it will prove that population-wide stressful events may slightly twist the trajectory of personality, especially in younger adults. In the same way that physical distancing has been shown to alter our emotions and perception of time. “Nothing is the same as a hug no matter how much we have today Skype”, exemplifies Álava.

Eduard Vieta (CIBERSAM and Hospital Clínic) is somewhat more critical. “The study has some validity, but also limitations, especially when making attributions to the pandemic, since the changes can be due to other factors”, believes this psychiatrist. He points out that the United States is not the same as other countries with other restrictions and cultures (implanting a mask in North America is different than in Asia-Pacific). And he highlights the weight of mental health, before and after the lockdowns and the coronavirus crisis.

“More than changes in personality, the pandemic has uncovered mental health problems that we had been carrying. A gale before a house with its foundations touched”

Silvia Álava, psychologist

“Personality is a relatively stable quality; the changes detected seem to be those expected in a context of stress. They would fit with detected increase in mental health problems (eating behavior, self-harm, etc.) observed in the youngest population in 2020-2021“, Vieta points out in the SMC from Spain.

Professor Burke adds a paradox in The Conversation: “Many of us became more health conscious, eating better and exercising more. We look for any social connection and try to refocus our attention on psychological, emotional and intellectual growth.” That, in our conduct. But “mental health and well-being decreased significantly. This makes sense given the drastic changes we’ve been through.” And that can slightly permeate our way of being and our identity.

In this sense, Dr. Álava’s clinical experience in Spain has revealed that they have jumped the seams of that mental health, more than personality. “We didn’t have enough tools to regulate our emotions. The pandemic has uncovered mental health problems that we had been carrying. We arrived fair. A gale before a house with its foundations touched, ”she concludes.