Can unemployment change your personality?

  • IANS, London
  • Updated: Feb 20, 2015 15:28 IST

Unemployment could be a vicious cycle. It can change peoples' core personality -- making some less conscientious, agreeable and open -- which may make it difficult for them to find new jobs, says a study.

"The results challenge the idea that our personalities are 'fixed' and show that the effects of external factors such as unemployment can have large impacts on our basic personality," said Christopher Boyce from the University of Stirling in Britain.

"This indicates that unemployment has wider psychological implications than previously thought," Boyce added.

The researchers examined a sample of 6,769 German adults (3,733 men and 3,036 women) who took a standard personality test at two points over four years, from 2006-2009.

Of this group, 210 were unemployed for anywhere from one to four years during the experiment; another 251 of them were unemployed less than a year but then got jobs.

The researchers looked at the so-called "Big Five" personality traits - conscientiousness, neuroticism, agreeableness, extraversion and openness.

They found that men experienced increased agreeableness during the first two years of unemployment, compared to men who never lost their jobs.

But after two years, the agreeableness levels of the unemployed men began to diminish and, in the long run, were lower than those of the men with jobs. For women, agreeableness declined with each year of unemployment.

Unemployment also reduced levels of conscientiousness and openness in men.

The study suggests that the unemployed may be unfairly stigmatised as a result of unavoidable personality change, potentially creating a downward cycle of difficulty in the labour market, Boyce said.

The findings were published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

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