Over the past year, we’ve all had our unique experiences of adapting to life in a time of pandemic. With lockdowns and work from home mandates, many of us were forced to endure months of near-solitude, and saw our daily routines disrupted. While some saw these restrictions as an opportunity for slowing down, others struggled with the lack of social interaction imposed.
As we continue to tackle the health crisis, experts wonder about the impact this strange time might have left on us all. Is it possible that the pandemic strengthened the introverted sides of all our personalities? And if so, how will our new, more introverted selves cope as we venture out into the world again?
Keep scrolling to learn what we know so far about the impact of the pandemic on personality type.
Can your personality actually change overtime?
If you asked Carl Jung or Isabel Briggs Myers about personality shifts, they’d probably tell you your personality type is fixed at a certain age, and it doesn’t change as you grow older. In fact, we have decades’ worth of studies that support this theory. One study, focusing on how personality evolves from childhood to middle age, suggests that the main traits of your personality remain stable over the course of 40 years.
However, recent research seems to contradict this hypothesis. One study covering a period of 63 years found little correlation between the participants’ personality scores at 14 when compared to their answers at the age of 77.
The researchers concluded that “personality changes only gradually throughout life, but by older age it may be quite different from personality in childhood.” This makes sense if you think about how getting older generally affects your habits, behaviors, and your outlook in life.
But what about a forced scenario like the pandemic? Did this situation change us from the inside out?
How the pandemic affected Extraverts and Introverts differently
While we all had our own individual experiences during lockdown, there’s reason to believe the new circumstances and challenges we faced did alter our personalities. But you may have felt the impacts differently, depending on whether you’re an Introvert or an Extravert.
Introverts: greater loneliness and Zoom fatigue
At first glance, no one would be better equipped to handle isolation than a quiet and reserved Introvert. Still, many Introverts actually struggled with loneliness during lockdown, and there may be a scientific explanation for this. According to this study, unlike their Extraverted peers, Introverts often had cognitive distortions like rumination and catastrophizing during quarantine: both linked to higher levels of loneliness.
Research from The University of Wollongong’s School of Psychology seems to back this up. In this study, researchers explored how 114 participants fared during the pandemic and found that, in general, introversion is linked with higher levels of loneliness, depression, and anxiety. The authors explained that Introverts often refrain from asking for help when they’re struggling with their mental health; turning inward instead. The result? Many Introverted folks might’ve used lockdown as an excuse to further isolate themselves, and shy away from much-needed human interaction.
As an Introvert myself, I can definitely relate to this. During lockdown, my fertile INFJ imagination ran wild. I spent a lot of time overthinking and dwelling on the dreadful possibilities the next day could bring. On a positive note, I also learned that, as much as I enjoy solitude, I need to get better at asking for help and reaching out to my friends and family when things get difficult.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, many Introverts gleefully thrust themselves into more social stimulation than they had before the lockdowns. At the beginning of the pandemic, I used to joke about how I’d never had a busier schedule. From book festivals to concerts and exhibitions, I could attend virtual events from around the world that I wouldn’t be able to attend in real life.
This was exciting during the first weeks of the pandemic. But as time went by I started to experience Zoom fatigue, which left me feeling as drained from my virtual interactions as I often feel from real-life interactions. I know other Introverts who felt the same way. For them, surviving lockdown was a balancing act between getting a healthy dose of human interaction, and avoiding social burnout.
Extraverts: greater introspection and rule breaking
The Extravert response to the pandemic differs. On the one hand, some Extraverts seem to have leaned into their introverted qualities and report being surprised at finding enjoyment in spending time alone. For these individuals, lockdown was an unexpected break in their gregarious habits, and a time for introspection.
On the other hand, research suggests that many Extraverts struggled with stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines. One study from the American Psychological Association shows that, across 55 different countries, naturally outgoing Extraverts “were most likely to break lockdown rules, and stayed at home less than people of any other personality type during March and April [of 2020].”
Obviously, the pandemic didn’t affect every Extravert the same way. How introspective you became during lockdown has a lot to do with your living situation: whether you live alone, whether your work was affected, and whether you had extra challenges like helping your kids with remote learning, among other situations. Thinking outside the data for a minute, we can speculate that losing a job, or dealing with grief might be associated with lower levels of extraversion among this cohort.
In addition, some Extraverts seem to have been able to move from real-life social interactions to virtual ones without experiencing the blues. One study looking at social connection during the first wave of COVID-19 found that the participants’ sense of connection remained mostly intact during this time, suggesting they were able to adapt to alternative ways of communication. To put it bluntly, an Extravert will find a way to Extravert, no matter what their situation.
Where do we go from here?
The evidence we have now suggests that personality shifts do happen over time, albeit subtly. Some of these shifts are related to the general consequences of getting older, and include a tendency to be more Introverted, and less Extraverted, as you reach middle age.
Besides these general effects, there’s also reason to believe the new circumstances and challenges created by the pandemic forced people to lean into their introverted nature. For some Introverts, this wasn’t necessarily a positive experience. Many Introverts moved from comfortable aloneness to uncomfortable loneliness during this time, and struggled to reach out for help when the doom hit.
At the other end of the spectrum, lockdown proved to be an interesting time of self-discovery for some Extraverts, with many enjoying a more slow-paced life. But they were also breaking the rules when things got tough.
So, where do we go from here? As we transition into a post-pandemic life, there’s no way of knowing if these subtle shifts in personality will be permanent. On my part, I’m hoping for more balance. I’ve enjoyed the slower pace of life and the camaraderie I felt during the early days of the pandemic. But I’m also excited at the prospect of switching back from virtual events to IRL ones.
Apart from the personal revelations you might have experienced during this difficult time, I think that collectively—Extraverts and Introverts alike—we’ve all learned an important lesson: not to take being around other humans for granted, ever again.