Much has been made of the widespread declines in mental health brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Health, anxiety, job insecurity, social isolation, and strains on health services have no doubt fostered the ideal climate for mental health problems to thrive. However, this might not necessarily be the experience for all individuals.
A new study of US college students has found that extroverted people tended to suffer mood declines during the early COVID-19 pandemic, while more introverted people actually saw some improvements to their mood.
As reported in the journal PLOS One, scientists at the University of Vermont surveyed just under 500 first-year college students (76 percent of who were female) who completed a “Big Five” personality test at the start of a semester that was disrupted by COVID. Both before and after the pandemic hit, they were asked to fill out a smartphone app survey that questions them about their mood and stress levels, as well as how often they exercised.
The results suggest that mood and mental wellness generally slumped during the COVID period, although stress levels were found to decrease in most.
There were also some marked differences between people with more extroverted personality traits compared to those with inverted personalities. People with higher levels of extraversion generally experienced a decrease in mood as the pandemic progressed, but people with lower extraversion tended to see a slight increase in mood over time.
The opposite was found with stress, however: extroverted people experienced decreased stress during the COVID period, but those with lower extraversion experienced slightly higher levels of stress.
“The COVID pandemic also appeared to have a negative impact on our mental health indicators, although not as uniformly as we had expected,” the study reads.
The study didn’t dig into the reasons behind the trends it managed to pinpoint, but the researchers did speculate on a few possible explanations.
Regarding the heightened stress seen among extraverts, they note: “There isn’t a straightforward interpretation of this combination of findings, but we speculate that, as hypothesized, more extraverted people might find the stimulation and challenges of busy academic life to be more rewarding. Leaving this environment for home isolation thus could have resulted in feeling less stressed but more bored and lonely, resulting in a decrease in mood.”
For the introverted people who saw a slight mood boost during the pandemic, the researchers believe that the lockdown and closure of the college may have act like a brief holiday from the stresses and strains of college life, noting “these results underscore how stressful college life can feel for some students.”
“The COVID pandemic brought more isolation and inactivity but also some relief from the regular stresses of this environment and this may have overall depressed both mood and perceived levels of stress” it adds.
There are few limitations to the study to consider. For example, much of the data was self-reported, which is not the most reliable way to gather information as peoples' self-perception can skew the results. Nevertheless, the research is one of the rare attempts to grasp how the same group of people felt both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.