"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 Boyce from the University of Stirling in Britain.

The researchers looked at the so-called "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, in the long run, were lower than those of the men with jobs.

For women, agreeableness declined with each year of unemployment. Unemployment also reduced levels of conscientiousness and openness in men.

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

The findings were published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.


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