Expert Q&A on personality and pandemic stress


Sam Liu, associate professor of kinesiology. Photo: UVic Photo Services

Prolonged stress is associated with poor physical and mental health outcomes. As public health officials create guidelines and policies designed to save lives, encourage compliance and minimize the negative mental health impacts of the pandemic, it's critical to understand the interplay between personality traits and stress. 

Sam Liu, University of Victoria assistant professor of kinesiology, is an expert in physical activity and health promotion, eHealth, and chronic disease prevention and management. Here, he explains what his COVID-19 research has shown about the relationship between extroversion, sociability and neuroticism, and perceptions of stress and adherence to government guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19. 

Q? Stay-at-home orders and social restrictions have been dubbed a “golden age for introverts.” Is that the case?  

A. Our study results provide initial evidence that a person’s degree of extroversion influenced levels of perceived stress during the pandemic. We found that extroverts, particularly very active and social people, showed higher levels of distress. However, this doesn’t mean that introverts don’t need any forms of social connection—social connection is essential to well-being. Introverts typically have fewer social interactions than extroverts, and therefore physical or social distancing measures during the pandemic may have produced only relatively small shifts in their regular social behaviour. 

Q? Why is it more stressful for extroverts to comply with these restrictions and how are they experiencing this stress? 

A. Individuals with higher extroversion are usually associated with lower perceived levels of stress. Extroverts are known to seek out social stimulation and opportunities to engage with others, and we know that social connectedness mediates the well-established relationship between extroversion and perceived well-being. So, the quarantine during the pandemic may have made it more difficult for extroverts to fulfill these needs. Alternatively, the higher stress experienced by extroverts may also stem from a lack of ability to regulate their emotions.

Q? What are the main personality traits and how do they affect stress?  

A. There are five broad personality traits based on the Five-Factor Model, which consists of neuroticism (the tendency to be emotionally unstable, and to experience such feelings as anxiety, worry and fear), conscientiousness (responsible, organized and goal-directed), extroversion (sociable, assertive and with a high activity level), openness (perceptive, creative and reflective), and agreeableness (cooperative, altruistic and generous). Certain personality traits such as conscientiousness, extroversion and especially neuroticism, have particularly strong associations with perceived stress and they tend to perceive events as highly threatening and often have limited coping resources, self-regulation and perceived efficacy. Our study findings confirmed that individuals with a strong neurotic personality experienced higher levels of stress during the pandemic due to higher levels of perceived threat related to COVID-19 and lower levels of perceived efficacy to follow government recommendations for preventing COVID-19. 

Q? In light of your findings, what are your key recommendations for stress management interventions? 

A. We hope that our findings will inform future behaviour interventions to manage stress as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, and for future pandemic planning. For individuals with higher levels of neuroticism, messages that highlight the severity and susceptibility of COVID-19 may just instill fear and further elevate stress. Also, a person's age and education should be taken into consideration, as these demographic variables were positively associated with perceptions of threat. Extroverts, particularly highly active and social individuals are most likely to experience distress from social restrictions. This could be approached creatively by maintaining social connections through video chats with family and friends and through online meet-ups.

Q? How can people use your research themselves to help manage their own stress? 

A. I think it’s important to recognize that we all experience stress differently and our personality is one of the many factors at play. Based on our study, maintaining social connection such as regular video chats with family and friends can be important during the pandemic. The more confident you are in your ability to follow government recommendations for preventing COVID-19—such as physical distancing and hand washing—may also help with stress. It is important to reach out to your health care provider when you are experiencing high levels of stress. 


A media kit containing high-resolution photos of Sam Liu is available on Dropbox.


Media contacts

Sam Liu (Dept. of Exercise Science, Physical and Health Education) at 250-721-8392 or

Suzanne Ahearne (University Communications + Marketing) at 250-721-6139 or

In this story

Keywords: COVID, health, Exercise Science, Physical and Health Education

People: Sam Liu

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