Do you personally know a hoarder?

Personality in crisis?

There is no generally applicable strategy to cope with the current "Corona crisis". There are very individual strategies for overcoming such crises, says Prof. Dr. Franz J. Neyer. The hoarder was a hoarder even before the crisis, the corona activist remains a corona activist. Because although people suffer in times of crisis and disaster, they still remain who they are. In an interview, Neyer, Professor of Personality Psychology and Psychological Diagnostics at the University of Jena, explains what distinguishes the individual and how they act.

What does a crisis like the current one do to the individual?

Neyer: As a personality psychologist, I find the opposite question interesting: What does the individual do with the crisis? And not what the crisis does to the individual. There is no question that we are all very worried and that we are extremely stressed by the contact restrictions. However, the question of the different ways in which we deal with these burdens is non-trivial. There is no such thing as an optimal strategy that I would recommend to everyone. Rather, everyone has to find out for themselves how they can best get through this time. There are very individual strategies for overcoming such crises, and these must always be tailored to the individual.

The crisis situation seems to change people's characteristics. Are people suddenly becoming hamster buyers, negatives, corona activists or defensive optimists?

I don't expect this crisis to change our personalities. We have to change our behavior and adapt to the situation, but thank God our personality stays the same. It would be terrible if this time were to shake us to the core that we all suddenly changed. Instead, it is remarkable and empirically proven that people suffer in times of crisis and disaster, but still remain who they are. I therefore regard the stability of the personality as a strong pound that we can build on during this time as well. I find it comforting to know that people can adapt and stay true to themselves at the same time.

Does the crisis affect the human psyche like a magnifying glass?

In fact, in a situation as uncertain and open-ended as the current one, one can observe interesting personality differences. Even if everyone is buying more toilet paper now, there may be people who are particularly in need of security and control who hoard more toilet paper than the average. And people who are inherently more optimistic and go through life with rose-colored glasses in front of their eyes will not perceive the situation as threatening as pessimists, who always assess everything negatively anyway. People who are more action-oriented also tackle threatening situations more aggressively than people who are more cautious and prefer to wait until everything relaxes. These examples give an impression of the diversity of personality and show that everyone bears their own personal risk during this time. There is no golden standard with which crises can be managed individually.

Are such traits inherent in all people?

Reducing people to singular characteristics such as optimism or pessimism makes little sense. The personality encompasses many facets that are very individual and make up the specialty of each person. Today we know that the variation of such traits or trait profiles is influenced in roughly equal parts genetically and by the environment. Genetic and environmental influences are in a dynamic interaction, so that the personality is never predetermined. But their individual development potential is of course limited by precisely these influences. In this way, we can foresee personality development to a medium degree and estimate how certain people react to critical situations. However, we cannot clairvoyant and cannot predict exactly what they will actually do.

Some are meticulous, others roughly and some do not adhere to the restrictive guidelines at all. Are the characteristics of the person behind the different behavior in the same situation? Are there any basic mechanisms?

Everyone deals with threat and uncertainty differently; and personality differences naturally have a decisive influence. Excessive caution can be an expression of a fundamental fearfulness and extreme recklessness an expression of a naive belief in one's own invulnerability. And furthermore, the tendency not to adhere to given rules can be traced back to a strong motive for autonomy and the opposite of this, to strong obedience to authority. It makes no sense to lump all people together and want to influence or even educate them in one direction. Instead, I advocate raising people's awareness of their potential and limits - or, to put it simply: their strengths and weaknesses - as early as possible from childhood and adolescence. In a situation like the one we are now experiencing, only those who know themselves well are able to reasonably accurately assess their individual risks and adapt their behavior accordingly.

Home office used to seem like a pipe dream to some people. Now they are in the home office and it seems more like a nightmare to them. Do people perceive things differently in a crisis than in "normal operation"?

People generally tend to assess their personal characteristics a little more positively than others do. This strengthens self-esteem and seems to be very healthy. It is therefore not surprising to me that many overestimate their ability to be alone and then have problems with the home office. People have a basic need for social connection and intimacy, even if they differ in the strength of their social needs for genetic and environmental reasons. For example, around 20% of all adults in Germany now live alone. We are currently investigating in a DFG project what makes people who live alone strong and under what circumstances they can meet their social needs and achieve a high quality of life. Such studies are particularly relevant at this time in order to be able to understand how people react very differently to being alone and self-chosen or forced isolation.

Do people learn from such a crisis and do they change?

Of course, people can learn and adapt their behavior, but that doesn't mean they have to change their personalities. I find it politically and socially unhelpful to demand that people should change their personality. We have to accept that no one is like the other and give everyone the chance to develop the best of themselves. That makes our society richer and more human. In such a crisis, it seems to me to make more sense to encourage people to reflect on their individual potentials and strengths and to pay attention to their possible weak points so that they can get through this time well.

Almost everyone remembers the day of 9/11. What remains of the 2020 corona crisis in people's memories? And do people change after the crisis?

I am not sure whether we will be able to accurately remember this situation and what went on within us later. With Kirkegaard, I rather expect that we live life forwards but understand it backwards. That means, in retrospect, we will personally remember what we are experiencing today collectively, and process what happened amicably with our self-concept, i.e. with personalities, and thus believe that we know who we are.

Can a crisis also have positive effects on the psyche?

Of course, it can have positive effects. At best, we can learn about ourselves and about others. For example, we can make new experiences in partnership, family and friends, which give us more security and enrich us. But I don't want to spread naive optimism here, because I also know that many people are currently having bad experiences in their close relationships that they don't put away so easily.

Finally, a personal question: Has this crisis situation changed you yourself? Are you now doing things that you previously thought were impossible?

Not really.