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Researchers Find Basic Personality Changes are Linked to Unemployment

Feb. 24, 2015

Unemployment can change people’s core personalities, making some less conscientious, agreeable and open, which can make it difficult for them to find new jobs.

This startling new research, published by the American Psychological Association in the Journal of Applied Psychology, examines a sample of 6,769 German adults who took a standard personality test at two points over four years. Some 210 members of the sample group were unemployed from one to four years, and another 251 participants were unemployed for less than a year and then found jobs.

“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 J. Boyce, Ph.D., of the University of Stirling in the UK. “This indicates that unemployment has wider psychological implications than previously thought.”

Boyce and his fellow researchers looked at the “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 ultimately became lower than those of the men with jobs. For women, agreeableness declined with each year of unemployment.

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