Pandemic Personality Change?

As the global Covid-19 pandemic winds down and people return to work and school, many are experiencing feelings of discomfort with face-to-face interactions that, once, were normal everyday occurrences.  People are feeling “weird” about being in public spaces and interacting with teams, workgroups, staffs, or classes full of people.

Data from the “Understanding America Study” an ongoing internet panel at the University of Southern California shows that key personality traits have shifted across the country, no matter the age, ethnicity, or other demographics.  The panel first began collecting survey answers in 2014, drawing upon publicly available data from about 7,000 participants who responded to a personality assessment administered before and during the pandemic.  Current scores show declines in key personality traits such as agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion and creativity, and the declines are particularly marked in young adults, under the age of 30.

One moment in time

These results are only a “snapshot” of this moment in time, and the ongoing data collection will show developing trends, some maybe more positive, and some maybe more negative, in the years to come as the pandemic recedes.  The most worrying aspect is the time lost to young adults who are using their late twenties and early thirties to establish their adult personas and ways of interacting with the world as they develop and grow.  Will the pandemic have a long-term measurable effect on this generation or will they catch up with those older in their adult development?

For all of us, emerging from the stress, isolation, grief and polarization of the last couple of years will take time and attention to our own social skills and our ability to help others recover or develop them.  Especially for the young adults in your life, conversations about navigating work and social relationships could be a useful way forward.  Social life is a constellation of skills that everyone has to learn, and one of the benefits of the pandemic may turn out to be that we develop more awareness of how and when we practice our social skills.