Restrictions implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19 were an adjustment for some, but may have been particularly challenging for the social butterflies of society. Now, alterations in personality are showing up as a result of the stressful world event.

New research has found that people of varying demographics in the U.S. are showing changes in personality, citing a decrease in traits such as openness, agreeability, extroversion, and conscientiousness.

The study also found that those in the under-30 age category experienced a disruption to maturity. 

The longitudinal study, published by Plos One, examined how the stress of the global pandemic may have impacted personalities through the ways people now think, feel, and behave.

Using what’s called the five-factor model, a hierarchical organization of personality traits used in psychology, the study examined changes in five personality traits at various times throughout the pandemic including: neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.

The researchers examined changes in personality early on in the pandemic (2020) and in the later half (2021-2022), in comparison to pre-pandemic levels.

While there appeared to be no major change in neuroticism in the second half of the pandemic (2021-2022), the researchers did find small declines in extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.

If these changes are long-lasting, the researchers wrote in the study, the evidence could indicate that population-wide stressful events such as the pandemic can slightly alter the trajectory of personality.

“In the pandemic, we were locked down and confined. We were prescribed isolation and avoidance as an expected part of public health guidance” said Dr. Simon Sherry, professor of the department of psychology and neuroscience at Dalhousie University, who was not involved in the study. “And so, after many months of required isolation and avoidance, it's not surprising that certain personality traits have changed slightly.”

While Sherry told that traits such as extraversion and openness can be seen positively in social contexts, in the context of the pandemic, those attributes may actually lead to further spread of the virus.

“Extraversion was targeted for a reduction during the pandemic. Extroverts became factors of disease because extroverted people prefer social contact, and social contact is associated in a pandemic with disease transmission,” he said.

The study also found that younger adults in particular displayed a personality disruption caused by increased neuroticism, the tendency to experience negative emotions and be vulnerable to stress, while showing a decrease in agreeableness and conscientiousness.

“At the young adult phase, you're not yet the person you're going to be for the rest of your life. There's still room for brain development and personality development, and personal growth” Sherry said. “But past the age of 30, personality does become more fixed, and more stable…we might argue it's set like plaster.”

As for long-term impacts, Sherry suspects that the COVID-19 mitigation strategies will in fact lead to lifelong alterations in personality, to varying degrees.

“[The long term impacts] will be determined by our ongoing response to the pandemic - what parenting advice will we encourage, what norms will we put in place? What policies will we suggest or require?”