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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Luke Smillie, Professor in Personality Psychology, The University of Melbourne

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The war in Ukraine has had impacts around the world. Supply chains have been disrupted, the cost of living has soared and we’ve seen the fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War II. All of these are in addition to the devastating humanitarian and economic impacts within Ukraine.

Our international team was conducting a global study on wellbeing in the lead up to and after the Russian invasion. This provided a unique opportunity to examine the psychological impact of the outbreak of war.

As we explain in a new study published in Nature Communications, we learned the toll on people’s wellbeing was evident across nations, not just in Ukraine. These effects appear to have been temporary – at least for the average person.

But people with certain psychological vulnerabilities struggled to recover from the shock of the war.

Read more:
Food shortages, millions of refugees, and global price spikes: the knock-on effects of Russia’s Ukraine invasion

Tracking wellbeing during the outbreak of war

People who took part in our study completed a rigorous “experience-sampling” protocol. Specifically, we asked them to report their momentary wellbeing four times per day for a whole month.

Data collection began in October 2021 and continued throughout 2022. So we had been tracking wellbeing around the world during the weeks surrounding the outbreak of war in February 2022.

We also collected measures of personality, along with various sociodemographic variables (including age, gender, political views). This enabled us to assess whether different people responded differently to the crisis. We could also compare these effects across countries.

Our analyses focused primarily on 1,341 participants living in 17 European countries, excluding Ukraine itself (44,894 experience-sampling reports in total). We also expanded these analyses to capture the experiences of 1,735 people living in 43 countries around the world (54,851 experience-sampling reports) – including in Australia.

A global dip in wellbeing

On February 24 2022, the day Russia invaded Ukraine, there was a sharp decline in wellbeing around the world. There was no decline in the month leading up to the outbreak of war, suggesting the change in wellbeing was not already occurring for some other reason.

However, there was a gradual increase in wellbeing during the month after the Russian invasion, suggestive of a “return to baseline” effect. Such effects are commonly reported in psychological research: situations and events that impact our wellbeing often (though not always) do so temporarily.

Unsurprisingly, people in Europe experienced a sharper dip in wellbeing compared to people living elsewhere around the world. Presumably the war was much more salient for those closest to the conflict, compared to those living on an entirely different continent.

Interestingly, day-to-day fluctuations in wellbeing mirrored the salience of the war on social media as events unfolded. Specifically, wellbeing was lower on days when there were more tweets mentioning Ukraine on Twitter/X.

Our results indicate that, on average, it took around two months for people to return to their baseline levels of wellbeing after the invasion.

Different people, different recoveries

There are strong links between our wellbeing and our individual personalities.

However, the dip in wellbeing following the Russian invasion was fairly uniform across individuals. None of the individual factors assessed in our study, including personality and sociodemographic factors, predicted people’s response to the outbreak of war.

On the other hand, personality did play a role in how quickly people recovered. Individual differences in people’s recovery were linked to a personality trait called “stability”. Stability is a broad dimension of personality that combines low neuroticism with high agreeableness and conscientiousness (three traits from the Big Five personality framework).

Read more:
Ukraine war: conflict-related PTSD is putting strain on an already underfunded mental health system

Stability is so named because it reflects the stability of one’s overall psychological functioning. This can be illustrated by breaking stability down into its three components:

  1. low neuroticism describes emotional stability. People low in this trait experience less intense negative emotions such as anxiety, fear or anger, in response to negative events

  2. high agreeableness describes social stability. People high in this trait are generally more cooperative, kind, and motivated to maintain social harmony

  3. high conscientiousness describes motivational stability. People high in this trait show more effective patterns of goal-directed self-regulation.

So, our data show that people with less stable personalities fared worse in terms of recovering from the impact the war in Ukraine had on wellbeing.

In a supplementary analysis, we found the effect of stability was driven specifically by neuroticism and agreeableness. The fact that people higher in neuroticism recovered more slowly accords with a wealth of research linking this trait with coping difficulties and poor mental health.

These effects of personality on recovery were stronger than those of sociodemographic factors, such as age, gender or political views, which were not statistically significant.

Overall, our findings suggest that people with certain psychological vulnerabilities will often struggle to recover from the shock of global events such as the outbreak of war in Ukraine.

The Conversation

Luke Smillie does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. War in Ukraine affected wellbeing worldwide, but people’s speed of recovery depended on their personality –