Thursday, December 16, 2021

Surprisingly, we found change in national personality traits after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically increases in trait Extraversion and associated narrow traits (e.g., Sociability, Humor, and Sensation Seeking)

Personality States of the Union. David M. Condon, Sara J. Weston. Collabra: Psychology (2021) 7 (1): 30140. Dec 2021.

Fluctuations in the average daily personality of the United States capture both meaningful affective responses to world events (e.g., changes in anxiety or well-being) and broader psychological responses. We estimate the change in national personality in the months following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and investigate fluctuations in personality states during the year 2020 using data from an ongoing personality assessment project. We find significant and meaningful change in personality traits since the beginning of the pandemic, as well as evidence of instability in personality states. When evaluating changes from the first few months of 2020 to the period of social distancing related to COVID-19 restrictions, the social traits reflected an unexpected “deprivation” effect such that mean self-ratings increased in the wake of restricted opportunities for social interaction. Changes in mean levels of the affective traits were not significant over the same months, but they did differ significantly from the average levels of prior years when looking at shorter time intervals (rolling 7-day averages) around prominent national events. This instability may reflect meaningful fluctuations in national personality, as we find that daily personality states are associated with other indices of national health, including daily COVID-19 cases and the S&P index. Overall, the use of personality measures to capture responses to global events offers a more holistic picture of the U.S. psyche and of personality change at the national level.

Keywords:personality, states, traits, personality change

In summary, the present research found evidence for change in national personality traits after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically increases in trait Extraversion and associated narrow traits (e.g., Sociability, Humor, and Sensation Seeking). Fluctuations in social traits were also associated with increased numbers of new daily COVID-19 cases and drops in the S&P500, suggesting that these changes and fluctuations in national personality are connected with larger psychological processes that impact both daily lives and long-term outcomes for the country. There was no supporting evidence that these changes were driven by annual or seasonal changes. While it remains a possibility that some or all of this change was driven by a shift in sampling characteristics (i.e., lockdowns increased the likelihood that more extraverted individuals participated in the survey because they could no longer socialize), other changes during the lockdown period suggest that more substantive factors were involved. These changes include increases in Art Appreciation, Compassion, and Emotional Expressiveness, and decreases in Emotional Stability and Authoritarianism. Changes in these traits are less readily explained by shifts in participant sampling than the circumstantial factors of pandemic-induced restrictions and suffering.

Mean-level increases in affective traits (e.g., Neuroticism) were not found, but analysis of personality state dynamics revealed substantial instability in daily national state Neuroticism and related traits, such as Well-Being, Anxiety, and Irritability. These fluctuations are meaningful (i.e., not simple sampling error), as evidenced by their substantial correlations with other national indices, though challenging to interpret with respect to personality theory. One explanation is methodological. Consistent with recognition that affective traits are more labile than other personality traits (Gross et al., 1998), the appropriate time frame for assessing change in these traits is likely distinction from the months-long window used to compare trends before and after the lockdown.

These findings shed light on another methodological issue as well. Unlike short-term fluctuations in the affective traits, mean-level changes in social traits during the lockdown run counter to expectations based on the behavioral or “act frequency” conception of traits (Buss & Craik, 1983). Mean self-ratings increased due to the deprivation of opportunities to engage in social behaviors, whether due to a change in the make-up of respondents and/or increased self-appraisals of social tendencies. This highlights the merits of informant-reports with respect to convergent validity. The use of national indices of personality traits for tracking changes over time (Baugh et al., 2021) would be substantially improved by the inclusion of informant-reports as a means of distinguishing these deprivation effects from changes in behavioral frequency. The collection of informant-reports should be prioritized in subsequent research on changes in personality at the national level.

This study adds to the growing literature on regional personality (Rentfrow et al., 2008), especially national personality, by being among the first to consider how national personality changes over short intervals and in response to a significant global crisis. Our work points to the utility of measures of narrow traits in this field, as the narrow and unidimensional state fluctuations were those most highly correlated with daily national outcomes. Future research should examine the associations of daily fluctuations in national personality with other metrics of import to economists, public health advisors, and others who work in policy, to understand the psychological underpinnings of these outcomes. Moreover, additional work should seek to model the underlying causal processes; it remains unknown whether fluctuations in traits cause these outcomes or are reflections of other processes.

Changes and fluctuations in Humor speak to the possibility of the bidirectional processes. We propose that changes in traits provide insight into how a nation chooses to react to emergencies. Humor is used to facilitate interpersonal relationships (Ziv, 2010); compare the relatively higher levels of humor during the spring of 2020 to the low levels in the fall and winter. Humor rose when the nation faced an emergency that was perceived to affect all its citizens. It can be argued that no person’s life was untouched by the pandemic, at least in terms of day-to-day routines. However, as the summer approached, it became apparent that all citizens were not affected equally. By the time of the presidential election, American citizens were no longer fighting a pandemic together, but fighting each other for control of the federal government. Correspondingly, Humor – and attempts to build community – plummeted.

The current study only examines change through December 31, so a remaining question is the extent to which the observed changes in national personality are lasting. However, regardless of the long-term impact on personality, even short-term changes in these traits may have substantial impact on national outcomes, given the associations between daily fluctuations and other indices. Especially if there is evidence that some personality states cause outcomes (rather than the other way around), even changes lasting a week or only a few days could have repercussions lasting months or years. For example, it was notable to see no change in affective traits (Neuroticism, Anxiety, etcetera) over longer intervals, but to see substantial short-term instability in these traits and strong associations with national indices of health.

Statistical power in this study was limited by the length of data collection (Ndays = 366 days in 2020), despite the large number of participants who provided data. While greater statistical power could be achieved by widening the time frame, we believe that days outside this time period constitute a different population from the days of interest to this study, at least with regard to historical years. The year 2020 was a unique time in the nation’s history, with major news related to (1) the COVID-19 pandemic, the national emergency, and state-ordered lockdowns, (2) social unrest and injustice, and (3) a major political election in which a sitting president refused to support a peaceful transfer of power. While the United States has been troubled by public health, political, and civil emergencies in the past, we cannot think of a time when we have grappled with all three simultaneously. Moreover, the Internet and social media have connected the average citizen to these issues with more regularity and intimacy than ever before. With that in mind, we do not view the current study as an attempt to find the definitive and context-independent associations between personality fluctuations and outcomes, but rather a demonstration that change and fluctuations in nation-level personality are meaningful, informative, and worthy of consideration by researchers and policymakers alike.

Importantly, the cross-sectional design of the current work is a significant limitation. Given this design, we cannot make strong claims about personality change within individuals, nor can we say definitively that the findings herein are not driven by a shift in sampling characteristics during this period. To do so would require either large-scale longitudinal data collection with high frequency assessments or, in cross-sectional data, carefully randomized sampling of participants to reduce the potential of bias due to “opt-in” participation.

While much attention has been paid to the well-being of the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic, the present research points to the importance and utility of national personality as a focus of study. Our findings suggest that national personality is impermanent, and that fluctuations in personality states are meaningfully linked to important outcomes. Future research may be able to harness this information for better understanding of national health and psychology-informed policy intervention

Experience-expectant plasticity: Experiences at a specific developmental stage trigger major and rapid neurobiological changes that are difficult to reverse, as those responses are thought to occur only when dealing with species-typical conditions

What is the expected human childhood? Insights from evolutionary anthropology. Willem E. Frankenhuis and Dorsa Amir. Development and Psychopathology (2021), 1–25, Dec 2021.

Abstract: In psychological research, there are often assumptions about the conditions that children expect to encounter during their development. These assumptions shape prevailing ideas about the experiences that children are capable of adjusting to, and whether their responses are viewed as impairments or adaptations. Specifically, the expected childhood is often depicted as nurturing and safe, and characterized by high levels of caregiver investment. Here, we synthesize evidence from history, anthropology, and primatology to challenge this view. We integrate the findings of systematic reviews, meta-analyses, and cross-cultural investigations on three forms of threat (infanticide, violent conflict, and predation) and three forms of deprivation (social, cognitive, and nutritional) that children have faced throughout human evolution. Our results show that mean levels of threat and deprivation were higher than is typical in industrialized societies, and that our species has experienced much variation in the levels of these adversities across space and time. These conditions likely favored a high degree of phenotypic plasticity, or the ability to tailor development to different conditions. This body of evidence has implications for recognizing developmental adaptations to adversity, for cultural variation in responses to adverse experiences, and for definitions of adversity and deprivation as deviation from the expected human childhood.

Keywords: dimensions of adversity; expected childhood; human evolution; deprivation; threat

5. Associations between dimensions of adversity
We have argued that, over evolutionary time, human infants and children have on average been exposed to higher levels of threat and nutritional deprivation than is typical in industrialized societies, and that because these levels were variable over time and space, natural selection has likely favored phenotypic plasticity. In this section, we explore the co-occurrence of different forms of adversities within lifetimes during human evolution. Were individuals who were exposed to higher levels of threat also exposed to higher levels of deprivation and vice versa?

What do we know about adversity co-occurrence?
In contemporary industrialized (WEIRD) societies, correlations between different forms of adversity are consistently small to moderate (Dong et al., 2004; Finkelhor et al., 2007; Green et al., 2010; Matsumoto et al., 2020; McLaughlin et al., 2012; McLaughlin et al., 2021; Smith & Pollak, 2021a), though which forms of adversity cluster together is inconsistent across studies (Jacobs et al., 2012). The existence of correlations among forms of adversity is not surprising. For instance, receiving lower levels of parental investment implies being less protected, thus increasing vulnerability to threats (Callaghan & Tottenham, 2016; Hanson & Nacewicz, 2021); and, low-quality nutrition increases vulnerability to infectious disease (Katona & Katona-Apte, 2008). Consistent with such dependencies are findings showing that children who experience energy sufficiency but receive low levels of parental care tend to mature faster and toward more adult-like functioning in physiological and neurobiological processes related to fear and stress (Callaghan & Tottenham, 2016; Gee et al., 2013; Gee, 2020; Tooley et al., 2021; see also Belsky et al., 1991; Ellis et al., 2009). Recent evidence suggests that such reprioritization may even be passed down to subsequent generations. For instance, babies of mothers who experienced neglect as children might become predisposed to detecting threat in their environment (Hendrix et al., 2020). It is tempting to speculate that natural selection favored this developmental response – which takes one form of adversity (neglect) as input to adapt to another (threat) – because deprivation and threat were correlated in human evolution.
Nonetheless, we urge researchers to be cautious. First, a meta-analysis and systematic review shows that exposure to threat (e.g., violence) is associated with accelerated maturation in humans, whereas exposure to deprivation (e.g., neglect) is not (Colich et al., 2020). Second, there is evidence suggesting that correlations between threat and deprivation do not generalize across primates. For instance, in a longitudinal study of wild baboons, the correlations between different forms of adversity were weak or even absent (Snyder-Mackler et al., 2020; Tung et al., 2016). Third, the evidence basis on correlations between different forms of adversity in both historical and contemporary non-WEIRD societies is too limited to afford confident conclusions. Fourth, because human social organization and provisioning systems are highly flexible, our species may have evolved sensitivity to a broader range of social cues than other primates (Kuzawa & Bragg, 2012), and the correlations between such cues and forms of adversity likely varied by cultural context (see Section 6).

Genes, environment, and the gene–environment correlation all contribute significantly to sociopolitical attitudes; largest genetic effects for religiousness & social liberalism, largest influence of parental environment was for political orientation & egalitarianism

Parent Contributions to the Development of Political Attitudes in Adoptive and Biological Families. Emily A. Willoughby et al. Psychological Science, November 18, 2021.

Abstract: Where do our political attitudes originate? Although early research attributed the formation of such beliefs to parent and peer socialization, genetically sensitive designs later clarified the substantial role of genes in the development of sociopolitical attitudes. However, it has remained unclear whether parental influence on offspring attitudes persists beyond adolescence. In a unique sample of 394 adoptive and biological families with offspring more than 30 years old, biometric modeling revealed significant evidence for genetic and nongenetic transmission from both parents for the majority of seven political-attitude phenotypes. We found the largest genetic effects for religiousness and social liberalism, whereas the largest influence of parental environment was seen for political orientation and egalitarianism. Together, these findings indicate that genes, environment, and the gene–environment correlation all contribute significantly to sociopolitical attitudes held in adulthood, and the etiology and development of those attitudes may be more important than ever in today’s rapidly changing sociopolitical landscape.

Keywords: political attitudes, adoption, behavioral genetics, environment, open data, open materials, preregistered