Perceived Control During the COVID-19 Pandemic Depends on Personality Traits

Adults residing in the US were recruited into 4 waves of online surveys to ascertain perceived control during the COVID pandemic.

Specific components of an individual’s personality impacted baseline and change in perceived control (PC) during the initial period of the COVID-19 pandemic and were moderated by social and health factors. These findings were published in Personality and Individual Differences.

Adults (N=2455) residing in the United States were recruited by the website dynata to complete 4 waves of online surveys. The 4 survey waves occurred from January 31-February 10, 2020; March 18-29, 2020; April 23-29, 2020; and July 10-20, 2020.

Participants were evaluated by the 60-item Big Five Inventory-2 (BFI-2) and the average score was used to define participants as having neuroticism (α, 0.89) extraversion (α, 0.81), openness (α, 0.80), agreeableness (α, 0.83), and conscientiousness (α, 0.88) components to their personality. PC was evaluated by the 3-item Domain-Specific Control scale from the Health and Retirement Study. Lower PC scores were related to maladaptive psychological responses to stressful events.

Participants were aged mean 50.32±16.99 years, 50.3% were men, 68.1% were White, and disease burden on a 5-point scale was 1.38±1.57. The number of participants who responded during wave 2 was 2266, during wave 3 the number was 1838, and during wave 4 the number was 1065.

PC scores during waves 2, 3, and 4 were 6.26±2.20, 6.14±2.14, and 6.79±2.03 points, respectively. These trends supported the study authors’ hypothesis that PC would decline during the first 4 months of the pandemic.

During this time, age was related with the slope of PC. In an analysis that considered health, social life, and financial situation, only financial PC was significant, indicating a perceived loss of financial control.

During waves 2, 3, and 4, all personality traits had a significant interaction with PC (all P <.001). Participants with neuroticism felt lower levels of control and those with conscientiousness felt more PC. Extraversion and agreeableness had higher intercepts for PC and experienced a smaller decline in their PC slope. Openness was unrelated with the intercept or slope of PC.

Among all personality traits, older age was associated with a more pronounced change in PC compared with younger participants.

Unemployed participants had lower PC intercepts (β, -0.217; P =.025) and Republicans (β, 0.387; P <.001) and those with better health (β, 0.704; P <.001) had higher intercepts. The slope of PC declined more among employed individuals (β, -0.122; P =.034) and the slope of those with poorer health declined more than those with better health (β, 0.102; P =.013).

This study may have been limited by the brief assessment of PC.

“This study found that prepandemic measures of Conscientiousness, Extraversion, and Agreeableness help support PC in adults during the early months of the pandemic. These findings suggest PC changed during the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, and PC trajectory was moderated by distinct sociodemographic, personality, and health variables,” concluded the study authors.


Sesker AA, Lee JH, Luchetti M, et al. Personality and change in perceived control during the acute stage of the coronavirus pandemic. Pers Individ Dif. 2022;192:111607. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2022.111607