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Unemployment can change our personality, new research claims

Scientists believe the psychological damage of unemployment is far greater than previously thought.

Job Centre generic.

The psychological damage caused by unemployment is far greater than previously thought, according to researchers at the University of Stirling.

Behavioural scientists at the institution have found that unemployment, which is well known to cause substantial drops in personal wellbeing, can also cause large changes to a person’s core personality.

They believe that the study shows the effect of unemployment across society is far more than just an economic concern and it can result in unfair stigma.

Researchers found that being out of work led to reduced levels of conscientiousness, agreeableness and openness.

They claim that in turn these traits lead to individuals losing motivation, becoming less considerate and sympathetic and becoming less curious about the world around them.

Evidence from the study, which was carried out in partnership with the University of Southhampton, shows that the changes were greater the longer an individual remained unemployed.

Lead researcher Dr Christopher Boyce, from the University's behavioural science centre, said: "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.

"A high national unemployment rate may have significant implications across society.

"For example, high unemployment may hinder the development of desirable social and economic behaviours, such as participation in social activities and better health behaviours.

"Policies to reduce unemployment are therefore vital not only to protect the economy but also to enable positive personality growth in individuals."

Participants in the study completed two personality tests, four years apart. All participants were employed at the time of the first test.

At the time of the second test, they had either remained in employment, been unemployed for one to four years, or were re-employed after a period of unemployment.

The results showed that compared with those who had remained in employment unemployed people experienced significant patterns of change in their agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness.

Re-employed individuals experienced limited change.

A spokesman for the University added: "The study suggests that the effect of unemployment across society is more than just an economic concern.

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

"Public policy therefore has a key role to play in preventing adverse personality change in society through both lower unemployment rates and offering greater support for the unemployed."

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