Research Sheds Light on Dark personalities and COVID Compliance
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted everyone; but different types of people responded in various ways.
Some took health advisories seriously and followed all of the rules; others threw caution to the wind — sometimes with tragic results.
Optimists hoped for the best but prepared for the worst; pessimists just prepared for the worst. Dark personalities, however, responded somewhat uniquely.
Research reveals additional details:
Dark and Darker
Benjamin S. Hardin et al. in a study, "Is the COVID-19 Pandemic Even Darker for Some?"(2021) examined how dark personalities responded to pandemic protocols.
They describe the "Dark Triad" as referring to three subclinical personality constructs that overlap: narcissism, characterized by a desire for attention and self-aggrandizement, Machiavellianism as portrayed by a willingness to manipulate others, and psychopathy, characterized by callousness and impulsivity.
Hardin et al. (ibid.) note the inclusion of sadism, characterized by a tendency towards cruelty for pleasure or dominance, as a fourth trait to form the "Dark Tetrad."
Hardin et al. (supra) explain that these four personality traits, unique, yet united by a common lack of empathy, responded to the pandemic differently both in terms of behavior and emotional affect.
Dark Personality and Pandemic Protocol Compliance
In their sample of 412 Americans, when it came to pandemic best practices, Hardin et al. found that some dark personalities failed to follow the rules.
Perhaps this should not be surprising, as they note that people high in Dark Triad traits are more likely to engage in health-related risky behaviors.
They explain that psychopathy and Machiavellianism have been linked to behaviors such as unprotected sex and drug use, as well as less health-protective behaviors such as wearing seatbelts or adequate exercise.
They note that narcissism predicts some health-related behaviors such as exercise, but negatively predicts others, such as unprotected sex.
In their research, Hardin et al. (supra) found that people higher in psychopathy and narcissism reported less home cleaning behavior, which they suggest may reflect their impulsive tendencies and devaluation of future consequences, while sadism positively predicted cleaning behavior.
Describing this particular finding as hard to interpret due to the lack of prior research into the association of sadism and health behaviors, Hardin et al. (supra) suggest that sadists’ cleaning behavior might be in response to the pandemic, or indicative of greater health protective behaviors in general.
Do Dark Personalities Actuall Have a Positive View of the Pandemic?
Regarding emotional adjustment, Hardin et al. (supra) found that narcissism and Machiavellianism predicted negative emotional responses to COVID-19 related instability, while only Machiavellianism predicted a higher degree of fear of infection.
Hardin et al. (supra) explain that narcissists may be threatened by social instability because they are dependent on social feedback to sustain their grandiose self-concept, whereas Machiavellians fear it might threaten their ability to socially exploit others to achieve their goals.
Hardin et al. (supra) found that psychopathy and sadism were not significant predictors of pandemic-related fear or instability, but impacted positive affect.
Psychopathy negatively predicted positive affect, which they suggest may be due to the fact that public restrictions decreased opportunities to indulge in impulsive tendencies, decreasing positive mood.
Sadism, however, was linked with greater pandemic-related positive affect.
They suggest that perhaps because sadists take pleasure in the suffering of others, sadistic individuals may experience positive emotions in response to situations that negatively impact others.
And then there was the curious case of narcissistic altruism — which sounds like an oxymoron. Hardin et al. (supra) explain, however, that although they found that narcissism positively predicted helping others impacted by the pandemic, consistent with previous research linking narcissism with prosocial behaviors, it may actually reflect opportunist performance of selfless acts in pursuit of approval from others.
A Light at the End of the Tunnel
Obviously, we cannot diagnose dark personalities merely through pandemic-related behavior. But understanding how different types of people respond to and comply with pandemic protocol can help all of us work together towards a bright future.
This column 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 these major news outlets: 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, participates as a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony & Chorus, and plays the electric violin professionally with a rock band. Read Dr. Wendy L. Patrick's Reports — More Here.
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