Many have speculated about the personality types most affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Some suggest that extraverts are taking it the hardest, given their need for social interaction. Others contend that conscientious types have been most affected, given their desire for routine, structure, and productivity. Still, others suggest that neurotic types have been struggling the most, given their tendency to turn bad situations into worse ones.
A new study conducted by a team of researchers at Nixplay, a digital photo frame company, may help settle the debate. Surveying 2000 U.S. adults from August 27-28, 2020, the team sought to understand which personality types exhibited the most resilience during the pandemic. They found that people who scored high on the trait of emotional stability—that is, the ability to withstand difficult situations, handle adversity, and remain productive—were most successful at navigating the stress of the pandemic.
"Many have wondered which personality types are handling the stress of the pandemic better than others," says Mark Palfreeman, CEO of Nixplay. "Our findings show that people who possess traits associated with stress resilience and adaptability are the ones coping best with the pandemic. Theories that the pandemic might somehow be affecting psychologically well-adjusted individuals more than others are simply not supported by the data."
To arrive at this conclusion, the researchers tested which personality traits from two popular personality tests—the Big Five Personality Inventory and the Time Perspective Inventory—were most strongly associated with increased happiness, decreased loneliness, and an ability to "get by" during the pandemic. Here's what they found:
The Top 4 Traits Associated with Psychological Resilience During the Pandemic
1. Emotional Stability: Emotionally stable respondents—that is, people who rated themselves as someone who "handles stress well" and "doesn't get nervous easily"—showed the highest degree of psychological resilience during the pandemic. Conversely, respondents who scored low on emotional stability (i.e., neurotic personality types) experienced the most loneliness and unhappiness as a result of the pandemic. In other words, neurotic personality types are generally ill-equipped to cope with stressful situations effectively, and the situation posed by the pandemic is no different.
2. Future-Positive: The future-positive personality describes someone who is goal-oriented and hard-working. Future-positive types spend a large portion of their mental energy planning for the future and mapping out paths on how to get to where they want to be. Moreover, their focus on achievement sometimes comes at a cost to their personal relationships. The researchers found these personalities to be the second most successful in staving off the stress of the pandemic. This is likely due to their ability to channel their frustration into more productive pursuits and to not become overly upset about missed social opportunities.
3. Past-Positive: Past-positive personalities spend a lot of time reminiscing about the enjoyable experiences they have had in their lives. They are nostalgic for the past, and they like to keep in close contact with their friends and families. Past-positive personalities were also relatively unfazed by the pandemic, perhaps because their positive memories served as a protective buffer against current stressors.
Interestingly, past-negative personality types—those who wish things would have turned out differently and regret missing important opportunities and experiences in their lives—showed a high degree of loneliness and unhappiness. This reinforces the view that negative personality traits become even more negative when faced with the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic.
4. Extraversion: Some have theorized that introverts, unlike extraverts, have been spared many of the negative effects of the pandemic, given their low need for social interaction. This view is not supported by the results of Nixplay's survey. The researchers found the personality trait of extraversion to be associated with increased psychological resilience during the pandemic.
Introversion, on the other hand, was associated with decreased happiness, increased loneliness, and a lower ability to "get by" during these uncertain times. Why might this be? Christopher Soto, Professor of personality psychology at Colby College in Maine, has an answer. He says, “Compared with introverts, extroverts tend to experience more frequent and intense positive emotions. This makes it easier for them to maintain a positive mood in everyday life. It also helps them stay optimistic in the face of difficult circumstances, like the current crisis.”
The researchers next attempted to understand which coping strategies were most effective at staving off the stress of the pandemic. They found positive reframing (the ability to turn a negative into a positive), acceptance (not worrying about things that are out of one's control), and religion (finding comfort in religious or spiritual practices) to be most strongly associated with increased psychological resilience.
This research was part of a broader effort by the team at Nixplay to understand the extent to which missing out on important events and milestones is negatively impacting people's psychological well-being, and what can be done about it. The team found that many people are turning to technology as a means to stay connected and boost their happiness during this uncertain time. The most common forms of communication were phone calls, text messages, social media, and video calls. But people are getting creative as well. Of the 2000 respondents surveyed, over half have sought out an out-of-the-box way to connect with loved ones, such as virtual Netflix and chill, socially distanced backyard wine night, and watching a movie or game outdoors on a pulldown screen.