Coronavirus linked to personality changes finds study

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The national lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 may feel like a long time ago, but they are still very fresh in the memories of many. Those lockdowns had a range of health ramifications, both physical and psychological, for millions of people. For some young adults though, the changes were more dramatic, with researchers saying the pandemic may have fundamentally changed the personalities of young people.

The research was carried out by a team of researchers from Florida State University earlier this year; the study looked into whether the pandemic had an impact on the personalities of certain members of the population.

According to the research published in the PLOS One journal, long periods of social isolation had a profound impact on the young people in society.

The authors, led by Professor Angelina Sutin, wrote: “Younger adults became moodier and more prone to stress, less cooperative, and trusting, and less restrained and responsible.”

Their conclusions were reached after personality assessments of 7,109 participants who enrolled in the online Understanding America Study; a study which has run in cycles since the pandemic began.

As to why young people have been so affected by the pandemic, the authors said this could be down to how malleable the personality is when someone is young and still forming the person who they will become in adulthood.

Professor Sutin said: “Although the pandemic was stressful for everyone, it disrupted the normative tasks of younger adulthood, such as school and the transition into the workforce and being sociable and developing relationships.”

The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns interrupted the maturing process young adults go through during this time, effectively interrupting their development at one of its most crucial junctions.

Meanwhile, Professor Wiebke Bleidorn, added: “It’s interesting to see this average effect, despite the fact that people must deal with the things going on quite differently. One interpretation is that not having the normal formative experiences put development on hold. It will be interesting to see if … these traits bounce back.”

While the findings may be unnerving for some, Professor Sutin there was one caveat: “It is speculative because we did not measure reasons for the change, but this disruption may have had a larger impact on younger adults because these tasks are very important for this age group.”

Furthermore, the authors wrote in their discussion: “The changes cannot be attributed solely to the pandemic. Political and social upheaval co-experienced with the pandemic may have also contributed to the observed changes.

“Future research could address whether specific policy differences across states or countries have different impacts on change. Also, with few assessments of personality per participant, it was not possible to test for nonlinear changes over time. Future research would benefit from more assessments of personality to be able to test for such change.”

Alongside this, they said some personality trait changes could be “related to infection with SARS-CoV-2, particularly for individuals with severe cases and/or long COVID”.

The belief that a severe COVID-19 infection could result in changes to brain structure and therefore personality is reflected in a study published in the Nature journal.

Undertaken by scientists from the University of Oxford, the study assessed how COVID-19 impacted the brain. The virus has been known to have a neurological impact with many patients experiencing brain fog as one of the symptoms of the virus.

The study in question assessed the impact of the virus on 785 patients between the ages of 51 and 81 alongside a control group to use as a comparison.

The authors wrote that they observed “a greater reduction in grey matter thickness”, “greater changes in markers of tissue damage”, and a “greater reduction in brain size” compared to those who didn’t have COVID-19.

Furthermore, they said patients with the virus experienced cognitive decline as a result of the infection. What this suggests is that COVID-19 could accelerate neurological decline in the middle aged and elderly.

The authors added: “Whether this deleterious effect can be partially reversed, or whether these effects will persist in the long term, remains to be investigated with additional follow-up.”

With more research into the long-term impacts of COVID-19, more treatments can be developed which help patients.

However, this will take time, a resource not all patients with COVID-19 or long Covid have in abundance.

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