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Is Our Personality Adaptable to Change?

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In 2019 I wrote an article that discussed details of some of the key traits which may change and remain stable as we age. I specifically suggested that personality was one of those traits (or a combination of traits) which remains stable as we age and I provided discussions in relation to the Big 5 personality theory. As time has progressed and our lives have changed in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, I can now say that my thoughts upon the stability of personality have now changed.

When I teach personality to undergraduate students, I always make reference to the fact that an individual is usually born with specific personality traits and that these traits cannot be changed. Yes, personality traits can be slightly influenced by family and social situations, but in general, if someone is seen as having an extroverted personality trait (so being very sociable and outgoing) then this will not change throughout their lives.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, most people would use their personality to shape their own experiences of the world. Individuals who were more extroverted would often be in more social environments and would not appreciate time alone. Those who were seen as more open would quite happily not follow rules and regulations and would try to do daily tasks in their own ways. In 2020, the ability to socialise and do everything freely changed and we were restricted to what we could do and who we could socialise with when we were put into lockdown in March of that year.

Initially, my thoughts were that an extroverted individual would not cope well with the quick and drastic change in a social environment, in particular during times of lockdown or social isolation. After reading a book by Christian Jarret, I can say that I now do not think that this is the case. Christian Jarret provides readers with an interesting discussion on how our personalities can change and adapt over time and in general, the book has suggestions that we can consciously change our personality (not every part of it though). In terms of an extroverted individual being in a situation of lockdown, it would be a common occurrence for an extroverted individual to be able to manage quite well in lockdown after the initial period of adjustment. Sometimes our own perception of how our personalities appear is not a realistic reflection of reality. So, while an individual may think that they are highly extroverted, and society has led them to believe so, a change of social situations may enable an individual to question that and consider activities that are less social in nature. The same thing can be said for an individual who is more introverted, so someone who prefers their own company.

Lockdown for an introverted individual may have (at first) been seen as a positive experience but even introverted individuals do have social contact in their lives through family, friends and work. When these social contacts are taken away without warning, an introverted person may then realise what they are missing and they, as before, may rethink their own personality trait. I’m not saying that someone would drastically go from being highly extroverted to being highly introverted, but they may move along the continuum and understand things from other parts of the spectrum.

In future when I give lectures on personality, this is going to be an open topic for discussion. It would be interesting to see the views of students who have only been introduced to the concepts of personality during studying and from students who have been studying during pre and post lockdown times.

I think the most personality adaptations will be noticed when the world attempts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, in terms of people going back to offices and being able to go into social situations again. For me, I have not been into a large work meeting for over 14 months, and I do think that it will take me a while to adjust to seeing people in-person again. Because we don’t fully know the effects that the pandemic has had on personality, we cannot say what effects are doing to appear when society has some form of normality again. As a personality teacher and researcher, myself, it would be interesting to run a longitudinal study to look at how people have behaved and thought about their personalities during such a stressful and unusual time that we have had during the pandemic. This would give us a clearer indication of any long-term effects of the pandemic. 

Laura Jenkins, PhD is a teaching associate in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences at Loughborough University. 


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