A new study (PDF) has found that people with certain personality traits are less likely to follow protective rules.
The researchers used data from the Measuring Worldwide COVID-19 Attitudes and Beliefs study. Project. This is a global survey assessing people’s behavior and perceptions during the first few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. Götz and his colleagues analyzed responses from more than 101,000 participants in 55 countries. You looked at responses collected between March 20th and April 5th, 2020.
In addition to information about their own behavior, participants also answered a series of questions to measure what are known as the Big Five personality traits: Conscientiousness, Neuroticism, Agreeableness, Extraversion, and Openness.
Personality traits and shelter Obedience
The study (PDF), published October 15 in the journal American Psychologist, found that people who score low on the traits neuroticism and openness to experience are less likely to become obedient without strict government action protection. But this tendency disappeared when more restrictive government guidelines were introduced.
“It was a bit surprising at first,” said lead author Friedrich Götz of the University of Cambridge. One would expect that people with low Openness scores would be less likely to disobey orders, not more.
“Open-minded people have traditionally shown themselves to be risk-takers, willing to deviate from cultural norms, and tend to seek out and approach new and unknown things,” said Götz.
But openness is also related to an accurate risk perception. And this could have led to open-minded people assessing the COVID-19 risk themselves and acting accordingly.
A further explanation for the results could be political, according to Götz. People who score high on openness tend to be more liberal in their political beliefs. In the United States, adhering to social distancing rules appears to be heavily linked to partisanship. Liberals, in particular, are much more likely to comply than conservatives.
Extraverts are also less likely to seek refuge
The researchers also found that people with high extraversion scores were significantly less likely to shelter on the spot . However, higher scores on the other four personality traits were associated with a greater likelihood of sheltering in place. These results were independent of how tightly the government enforced its policies.
While people who score low on openness and neuroticism are less likely to seek protection when government policies are lenient, this tendency decreases when they stricter government policy existed.
Government policy versus personality power
The study shows that both the strictness of a government and a person’s personality predict the likelihood of that people seek shelter.
“Taken together, the results reconfirm the power of personality as a key driver of behavior, a force that is not easily eclipsed by government policy,” said co-author Jon Jachimowicz of Harvard University.
“Nevertheless, tough government policies were able to reduce the influence of two personality traits, showing how macro-level forces can reduce the influence of certain micro-level factors,” he said.
According to Jachimowicz, it’s important to understand why some people break the rules more than others. Learning what sets such people apart can help identify potential super spreaders. It can also help policymakers tailor public health messages to people’s personality to increase compliance.
Research: “How Personality and Policy Predict Pandemic Behavior: Understanding Sheltering-in-Place in 55 Countries at the Onset of COVID-19” (PDF here)Authors: Friedrich Götz, Andrés Gvirtz, Adam D. Galinsky and Jon JachimowiczPublished in: American PsychologistPublished Date: October 15, 2020DOI: 10.1037/amp0000740Photo: by Joshua Rawson-Harris via Unsplash