Narcissism May Play a Role in People’s Willingness To Follow Pandemic Guidelines

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 madness, people have had different views on how the crisis is being handled and whether protective equipment is useful when interacting with others. 

Surely, there are many factors that come into play when it comes to these personal points of view, but one of the main reasons could be psychological. As it turns out, people who exhibit “dark” traits linked to narcissism may be less likely to follow public safety rules related to the virus.

In a recent study, Pavel Blagov of Whitman College in Washington questioned 500 subjects online to look into the psychological reasons as to why some people would be less likely to follow the rules than others. All in all, those who had higher levels of conscientiousness and neuroticism were more prone to abide by safety messages. On the other hand, the people with “Dark Triad” traits and a lack of inhibition were less likely to be supportive of the measures and more likely to knowingly expose those around them to the risk of infection. 

The study found that most participants preferred a compassionate public safety message, such as “Help protect the vulnerable.”

However, those with darker personality traits did not truly care about the message.

Rather, they would prefer to ignore public health messages or act in opposition to such appeals.

Blagov wrote the following:

“Personality appears relevant to epidemiology and public health communication in a contagious disease context” 

And sure, this makes sense. Those with higher levels of conscientiousness and concern for other human beings would be more likely to follow guidelines that would help protect the most vulnerable. People who are more open and agreeable may be more prone to accept safety rules that will help them or those around them. More neurotic people who are seriously concerned about any kind of health hazards may be more likely to avoid taking any risks out of fear, while extroverts may be more frustrated with the guidelines than others.

Meanwhile, those with narcissistic traits such as manipulativeness, callousness, and minimal empathy may be less likely to care about possible health hazards.

They are more likely to be selfish and act without care for what may happen to those around them. More precisely, they despise being told what to do, which experts have seen in previous studies related to addictive substances and sex.

For example, those with psychopathic leanings are more prone to intentionally mislead sex partners about their HIV-positive condition. Narcissists may also knowingly put people at risk of being infected with HIV. During the coronavirus crisis, people with dark traits might ignore public health warnings and put others at risk.

However, Blagov notes that it’s crucial to avoid conflating such associations too much.

The study does not mean that only careless and selfish people are spreading the virus, and they do not mean that those who contract COVID-19 have dark traits. Also, the correlations in the study were not big, and most people supported the guidelines. Nevertheless, the study raises important questions when it comes to future research.

Another major point is that the research was done between March 20-23 right after the states of New York and California issued mandatory self-isolation orders. Back then the pandemic was still fresh in the United States and people were generally more fearful of the virus than they are now. Future studies may show us how people’s opinions have evolved throughout 2020 and what we may see going into the new year.

Personality traits cannot explain all the various reasons why people make the choices they do, but it is a positive step for public health messaging.

For a long time, experts have known that people respond in different ways to anti-smoking, anti-drug, and condom use campaigns. Unsurprisingly, people like messages that align with their views and preferences.

For example, Blagov found that people normally preferred compassionate messages, even if they were self-centered ones such as “Keep yourself healthy.” Public health authorities may be able to utilize messages such as these during the crisis to appeal to people with all kinds of personalities, including narcissists who may mostly be focused on their own wellbeing.

What are your thoughts on these findings? Let us know by joining the conversation in the comments and please share this article if you’ve found it informative. 

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