The message from the broader scientific literature on personality change is a positive one. People are adaptive – for instance, people’s conscientiousness tends to increase when they take on a demanding role, and their traits rebound in positive fashion after leaving a difficult relationship, suggesting that we’ll find a way to cope with whatever the future has in store.
Shiner warns though that introverts like me might find it a particular challenge, at least at first. “While in lockdown, introverts have been able to avoid the social pressure for interaction that is so common in places like the United States, and this may make re-entry difficult,” she says. Her advice is to spend time with “more familiar friends one-on-one or in very small groups – which is certainly more compatible with social distancing anyhow – as they navigate re-entry”.
Damian is upbeat about our collective ability to adjust as lockdown measures lift. “I don’t think people need to worry about changing their traits back to pre-lockdown,” she says. “I expect the change will happen gradually and naturally for most people, once the environmental pressures change. It will just take time.”
If anything, her advice is that we don’t rush back to old ways. In Texas, where Damian is based, hospitals are at capacity following a surge in new infections after lockdown was lifted. “I think that people have adjusted their pre-lockdown behaviours too quickly, so I wouldn’t recommend the rest of the world follow suit right now,” she says.
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