New research suggests long stints of unemployment can have long-term effects on personality traits, changes that may become near-permanent.
It's accepted knowledge that unemployment can have negative psychological consequences. Not only is a person's job status is not only often tied inextricably to a person's self-worth, but it's the life jacket that keeps the rising tides of poverty at bay. But how does unemployment affect the psyche long-term?
researchers found that men who spent several years looking unsuccessfully for work tended to demonstrate higher levels of "agreeableness" during their first two years of unemployment. Agreeableness is one of the Big Five personality traits identified by psychology's five-factor model (FFM) -- along with openness, conscientiousness, extroversion and neuroticism. The testing showed after an uptick in agreeableness during the first two years, men's agreeableness levels began to quickly slump, with long-term agreeableness levels consistently lower for unemployed men than for those with jobs.
"In early unemployment stages, there may be incentives for individuals to behave agreeably in an effort to secure another job or placate those around them," the researchers wrote in the new study, published last week in the Journal of Applied Psychology. "But in later years when the situation becomes endemic, such incentives may weaken."
Men who spent longer amounts of time without a job also demonstrated ebbing levels of conscientiousness and openness.
"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," Christopher J. Boyce, a psychologist at the University of Stirling, in Scotland, explained. "This indicates that unemployment has wider psychological implications than previously thought."