Taking It Personal: Did the Pandemic Change Your Personality?

By Kris W. Sky | Posted October 10, 2022

Are you an extrovert or an introvert? Are you sanguine, choleric, or both? What about being a pleaser or an avoider? Our culture is flooded with personality quizzes, whether taken for fun or on a job interview.

On September 28, 2022, a group of researchers, headed by Angelina Sutin from Florida State University College of Medicine, published a peer-reviewed article with surprising finds on personality changes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They used data from the Understanding America Study, “an internet panel study of participants across the United States administered by the University of Southern California. … To date, the UAS has administered the same personality measure three times (UAS1, UAS121, UAS237). Personality in UAS1 was collected between May 2014-March 2018, personality in UAS121 was collected between January 2018-April 2020, and personality in UAS237 was collected between April 2020-February 2022.” Thus, the study surveyed a group of Americans before the pandemic; at the start of the pandemic, known as “the acute phase”; and most recently, three years into the pandemic, known as “the adaptation phase.” Sutin and her team reviewed data from “7,109 participants in the UAS who had completed at least one personality assessment before the pandemic and another assessment during either the acute or adaptation phase of the pandemic.”

According to their article, personality is defined as “more general ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving.” An individual’s personality “[tends] to reach stability about age 30.” After young people “go to college or get their first jobs” comes a settling into a certain lifestyle and, hence, personality; there’s less change, stronger identity. Then, toward the end of people’s lives, it is common that “cognitive impairment reduces stability,” as with senility. But a traumatic event can severely alter this routine course.

The UAS measured personality using “a widely-accepted model” known as “the Big Five Inventory,” which surveys five aspects: 

1. Neuroticism: “the tendency to experience negative emotions and vulnerability to stress.”

2. Extraversion: “the tendency to be talkative and outgoing.”

3. Openness: “the tendency to be creative and unconventional.”

4. Agreeableness: “the tendency to be trusting and straightforward.”

5. Conscientiousness: “the tendency to be organized, disciplined, and responsible.”

NPR reports, “There’s a general trend for young people to see a decrease in neuroticism as they mature, and an increase in agreeableness and conscientiousness. Sutin calls this trajectory ‘development towards maturity.’” Additionally, all these five factors “are thought to be relatively impervious to environmental demands in adulthood.”

Pandemic Patterns

The researchers, however, found several patterns to the contrary in the UAS surveys: In comparing the pre-pandemic and adaptation phases, the last four of “the Big Five”—extroversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness—all decreased significantly across the board. The article further explained, “The changes were about one-tenth of a standard deviation, which is equivalent to about one decade of normative personality change.” In other words, what would have normally taken ten years to achieve was accomplished in two. That’s aging at warp speed.

As for neuroticism, interestingly enough, it was shown to decrease in the acute phase. This finding was consistent with two other studies previously conducted. It is speculated that this initial outcome might have been due to an attitude of unity experienced early on in the coronavirus. This decline, however, did not last into the adaptation phase.

The researchers also looked at patterns among three age groups, categorized as “younger adults” under 30; “middle-aged adults,” those between 30 and 64 years; and “older adults,” 65 and older. Not surprisingly, younger adults fluctuated the most between the pre-pandemic and adaptation phases, shooting up in levels of neuroticism with considerable decreases in the other four factors, especially in agreeableness and conscientiousness. In contrast, older adults showed “no significant change” in those same four factors.

The Character of Christ

These findings are albeit categorized “as exploratory,” as there is also a lot that the researchers don’t know. They can’t predict whether these personality changes are temporary or permanent. They can’t guarantee that the pandemic was the sole cause behind these personality shifts. They couldn’t test “a control group[,] … people who didn’t live through the pandemic.”

The research does, however, prove one interesting observation: People—at the very least in America—are changing. And it doesn’t bode well for us: The researchers are concerned that an entire generation is growing up to be more anxious, less sociable, less innovative, less sincere, and less accountable. As time rolls on, will these young people lead the greatest nation in the world to become a society of desperate, indifferent automatons? Will they teach their children to be the same?

Of the last days, the Bible predicts, “The love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). They “will be lovers of themselves,” “disobedient to parents” (2 Timothy 3:2), “without self-control” (v. 3), “traitors” (v. 4), “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (v. 5).

One day, the Bible warns, America will become the pacesetter for a people enslaved to an authoritarian power, which controls the global economy by a mysterious mark (Revelation 13:14–17). Thankfully, God does not leave us in darkness. You can learn all about this fast-approaching time in “666 and the Mark of the Beast.” Or try our free Study Guide “The USA in Bible Prophecy.”

Not everyone, however, will be obedient to this beast power. In direct opposition will be a remnant, which Revelation describes as “those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (14:12). These are they who “live godly in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:12), whose personalities have been changed—into that of Christ (Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 1:27). You could very well be one of them.

Kris W. Sky
Kris W. Sky is a writer and editor for Amazing Facts International and other online and print publications.

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