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Surprising Science

How Employment Can Alter Our Personalities

Our personalities tend to shift in the face of adversity, particularly during periods of unemployment.

Our personalities tend to shift in the face of adversity, namely during periods of unemployment. Isha Aran from Fusion highlights a recent study that show how gaps in employment can bring about changes in ourselves that may make it difficult to break back into the workforce.

The four-year study was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, which consisted of 6,769 German adults. They were all given a test to measure the big five personality traits (conscientiousness, neuroticism, agreeableness, extroversion, and openness) at two points during the study. Among the participants, 210 said they were unemployed for one to four years between 2006 and 2009 and another 251 were unemployed for under a year before they found work. Researchers noted that their agreeableness declined, but with a distinct split between genders in how quickly and at what times their personalities’ began to shift.

Women’s agreeableness tended to decline with each passing year of unemployment. Whereas men tended to enjoy an increase in agreeableness during the first two years, but after that point, each passing year it declined. Also, men’s tendencies to be thoughtful and contentious declined with each passing year of unemployment. But women experienced an uptick in this personality trait toward the beginning and end of their unemployment.

Author Christopher J. Boyce said that the study, indeed, shows the “wider psychological implications than previously thought.” He also added some social commentary to their results — how policymakers could avoid such adverse reactions and help encourage those who fall on hard times to re-enter the workforce in the most productive manner. He suggests:

“Public policy therefore has a key role to play in preventing adverse personality change in society through both lower unemployment rates and offering greater support for the unemployed.”

Read more at Fusion.

Photo credit: Shutterstock


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