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What the Pandemic Taught Us About Our Personalities

How health restrictions helped us learn more about other people, and ourselves.

Key points

  • Shared standards, even between people who are separated, stimulates a sense of connectedness.
  • People who attached elevated importance to responsibility and security were likely to comply with COVID‐19 regulations.
  • Extraversion is linked with a greater reluctance to socially isolate.
  • Extraverts had a negative perception of social restrictions only if they were single.

You are stopped at a traffic light, and happen to look over to see the solo driver in the car next you is wearing a mask. Whether your response is “Why?” or “Right!” as you reach for your own, thankful for the reminder, your reaction reveals your personality. Research adds to this observation.

The Security of Shared Values

One of the hallmarks of pandemic living was living separate, but connected. As I outlined in a previous article,[i] the bonding power of social distancing illustrated how being forced to live apart brought us closer together. Arguably consistent with this theme, researchers have observed that shared standards, even between people who are separated, stimulates a sense of connectedness.

Lukas J. Wolf et al. (2020) found that shared values were important for tackling the pandemic, including assisting others who are struggling.[ii] The research team explains that people who attached elevated importance to responsibility and security values were likely to be more willing to comply with COVID‐19 behavioral guidelines, and that shared values can prompt a sense of connectedness that may promote collective efforts to slow the spread and contain infection.

Pandemic-Revealed Personality

Just as you no doubt know someone who wore a mask alone in a car, or wore one yourself, you probably also know someone who blatantly defied masking requirements and refused to wear a mask anywhere. Sure enough, the research recognizes that personality predicts Covid compliance behaviors.

Alison M. Bacon et al. (2021) reviewed the role of personality in Covid-related emotions and behaviors.[iii] Examining the Five-Factor Model of personality, her team found, among other things, something many of us noticed during the pandemic: that extraversion is linked with a greater reluctance to socially isolate. Most of us also know people who fit this bill during the stay-at-home orders, preferring in-person activities despite the warnings. This is consistent with prior research, as Bacon et al. note that extraversion predicts a lack of commitment to containment measures, such as social distancing. Other researchers found extraverts had a negative perception of social restrictions only if they were single: extraverts with romantic partners did not exhibit this effect.

Bacon et al. also note that extraversion is linked to sociability, which means that they might find social distancing difficult even when they are willing to follow other recommendations, such as washing their hands. Regarding other traits, they found that conscientiousness apparently prompts compliance with social restrictions and safety guidelines, but was also linked with less pro-social behaviors, such as stockpiling. One of the other points Bacon et al. made, which many people can relate to, was in connection to the “Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory” of personality, which describes the emotional conflict involved in the dual goals of trying to stay safe while maintaining normality.

The New Normal

How do we define "normal" post-pandemic? Focusing on the silver lining, one of the most comforting observations now that many people have returned, at least in some respects, to pre-pandemic patterns both personally and professionally, is that we ponder that question together. We share a sense of connectedness, having lived through a challenging time together, recognizing we were distanced only physically, not socially. Perhaps having learned more about the personality traits and predispositions of friends and loved ones, as well as ourselves, we are in a good place to extend empathy and understanding, and strengthen relationships.



[ii] Wolf, Lukas J., Geoffrey Haddock, Antony S. R. Manstead, and Gregory R. Maio. 2020. “The Importance of (Shared) Human Values for Containing the COVID-19 Pandemic.” British Journal of Social Psychology 59 (3): 618–27. doi:10.1111/bjso.12401.

[iii] Bacon, Alison M., Dino Krupić, Nese Caki, and Philip J. Corr. 2021. “Emotional and Behavioral Responses to COVID-19: Explanations from Three Key Models of Personality.” European Psychologist, Psychology, Global Threats, Social Challenge, and the COVID-19 Pandemic: European Perspectives, 26 (4): 334–47. doi:10.1027/1016-9040/a000461.