Can Personality Predict Levels of Pandemic Rules Compliance?
No Shirt, No Shoes, No Mask, No Service
We have all seen the footage. Viral videos capturing violence erupting in stores where a customer adamantly refuses to wear a mask, or in reaction to someone who won’t. The resulting pushing, shoving, throwing punches and worse seem overly disproportionate to the request. From a personality perspective, what type of people are more likely to act out upon being told no mask no service? Researchers have already tackled this question.
Personality and Pandemic Precautions
In an article aptly titled "Who Complies With the Restrictions to Reduce the Spread of COVID-19?" Marcin Zajenkowski et al. (2020) investigated what type of personalities were more likely to predict compliance with COVID-19 restrictions. Utilizing a sample in Poland, they examined the role of personality traits, such as the Big Five and the Dark Triad, as well as individual differences in how people perceived the COVID-19 pandemic, in explaining compliance with governmental restrictions.
They defined Big Five traits as representing "a broad cross-section of personality capturing individual differences in people's social, anxious, organized, creative, and personable nature." Regarding how some of these traits might predict compliance with COVID-19 policies, they note that neuroticism might reflect risk avoidance, which could prompt compliance to promote a sense of safety. Agreeable people are prosocial, and might thus be inclined to comply to protect others. Conscientious people are organized and avoid germs, which might prompt compliance to avoid infection. In addition, they note that conscientious people might not be as averse to stay at home restrictions as extraverts, who tend to be out and about more during a day.
Zajenkowski et al. also examined the Dark Triad traits of Machiavellianism, characterized by cynicism and manipulation, narcissism — defined as including self-centeredness and entitlement, and psychopathy — defined as including impulsivity as well as callous attitudes socially.
Perception Over Personality
Against the backdrop of government restrictions designed to contain the spread of the virus, regarding the role of personality traits and individual differences in perception of the COVID-19 pandemic, Stankowski et al. found that generally, it was the way the situation was perceived that explained more variance in compliance rates than Big Five traits or Dark Triad personality traits.
They noted this was consistent with the hypothesis that situations such as the COVID-19 crisis "leave less room for dispositional tendencies in predicting behaviors than situational cues." They explain this finding as supporting the "strong situation hypothesis:" when personality traits have a lesser role in predicting behavior in scenarios where situational cues overshadow dispositional tendencies.
As predicted, they found that participants who viewed the COVID-19 situation as characterized by negativity and duty were more likely to follow the restrictions. They also found that the COVID-19 pandemic might elicit anxiety and tension if it is perceived as a threat, which could prompt compliance. In contrast, they note that people who viewed the situation as "conducive to sex, love, and romance," were less compliant with restrictions. They speculate that perhaps spotting sexual opportunities outweighs concerns with potential health threats or rule breaking.
Compassion and Compliance
Regarding the influence of the Big Five personality traits, Zajenkowski et al. found only agreeableness to be associated with greater compliance. They explain that agreeable people are often compassionate and caring, which is consistent with the reality that COVID-19 related restrictions require people to endure personal inconvenience or costs in order to protect other people, loved ones and strangers alike. Agreeable people, with a generalized disposition towards helping, might be better equipped to make this sacrifice.
In contrast, they noted that there were several aspects of the Dark Triad personality traits that, predicted noncompliance. They explained that being rivalrous (narcissism for example), having little care for others (psychopathy Factor 1), and Machiavellianism as expressed in power seeking or cynicism, may create a dispositional "perfect storm" prompting a combative unwillingness to comply with restrictions. They explain that in this regard, agreeableness and some core aspects of Dark Triad traits might "represent two dispositional extremes that predict opposite outcomes in a salient situation, such as the COVID-19 pandemic."
Although we cannot diagnose personality through willingness to comply with pandemic restrictions, we might notice that some people we know have responded (or not) to these new rules as we might expect. Ideally, a focus on keeping the peace despite inconvenient rules and regulations can prompt both public safety and health.
This article was originally published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick, JD, MDiv, PhD, is an award-winning career trial attorney and media commentator. She is host of "Live with Dr. Wendy" on KCBQ, and a daily guest on other media outlets, delivering a lively mix of flash, substance, and style. Her over 4,500 media appearances include major news outlets including CNN, Fox News Channel, HLN, FOX Business Network, and weekly appearances on Newsmax. She is author of Red Flags (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the New York Times bestseller Reading People (Random House, revision). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin professionally with a rock band. Read Dr. Wendy L. Patricks's Reports — More Here.
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