Two new studies have concluded that people with “dark” personality traits, such as narcissism and psychopathy, are less likely to get on board with efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and more likely to stockpile items such as toilet paper and food.
The studies, which were published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, align with previous discoveries that the “Dark Triad” of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy is linked to the tendency to ignore anti-coronavirus guidelines.
However, the new findings indicate that health convictions and situational perceptions may play an even higher role than just personality characteristics.
“Our lab is interested in examining how personality factors are related to human functioning, including subjective well-being and mental health,” said Magdalena Zemojtel-Piotrowska, the corresponding author of one of the fresh studies.
“The pandemic created an extremely interesting situation for cross-cultural psychologists, especially those interested in the link between personality, social beliefs, and subjective well-being. The coronavirus outbreak is a medical as well as a social problem, as it forces us all to adopt specific behaviors to control the situation (like physical distancing or wearing masks).”
“COVID-19 affected virtually every society but did so in different ways. Some societies deal with the pandemic very effectively and without serious panic (like the Netherlands or Poland) and some were affected dramatically (like Iran or Brazil),” noted Zemojtel-Piotrowska, an associate professor and head of the Cross-Cultural Psychology Centre in Warsaw’s University of Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski.
“We looked at how culturally-conditioned personality factors (so-called ‘dark’ personality traits) impacted the effectiveness of dealing with the pandemic.”
For their research, the experts made a survey of 755 people in Poland between March 15 to 29, in the third and fourth weeks of the countrywide restrictions.
What they found is that those who had higher scores on a measure of Dark Triad characteristics were less prone to engage in preventive actions (such as keeping strong anti-bacterial hygiene and not leaving home unless necessary) and more prone to engage in hoarding behaviors.
However, a large part of this was explained by health beliefs regarding the coronavirus.
“So-called dark personality is not as problematic in the face of the pandemic as one could assume. The most important is what such people think about the coronavirus and about adopting preventive measures. One could expect that narcissists just do not care about others and therefore refuse to adopt to social rules recommended by medical experts. Yet, the picture is more complex,” Zemojtel-Piotrowska shared with PsyPost.
“Narcissistic people engage more in hoarding, and they do so because they are self-centered and because they are afraid of the coronavirus. However, there is a difference between collective narcissists (who are very strongly and blindly attached to their own group) and people characterized by dark traits (people who are self-centered and attached just to themselves).”
“Collective narcissists do not engage less in preventive behaviors, while dark triad personalities do. Dark personalities engage less in prevention only because they do not believe in the utility of preventative measures. They do not believe in effectiveness of such behaviors and they see more barriers to adopt them,” she added.
“So being ‘dark’ is important for behaviors during the pandemic, but ‘dark’ people engage in hoarding mostly because of their personality, while their preventative behaviors are conditioned by their beliefs about the coronavirus.”
“We cannot change a personality, but we could change the beliefs. So, the main practical finding is that we could encourage egocentric ‘dark’ people to adopt preventative measures by showing them that prevention works and it is not as demanding as they seem to assume.”
But like all studies, this one also has its shortcomings.
“Our study was conducted in one culture – in an affluent, stable European society, not seriously affected by the coronavirus,” Zemojtel-Piotrowska said. “We do not know why exactly people with dark personalities tend to buy more supplies – because they are more greedy or they are more competitive than others or they more take care about their personal comfort due to their feelings of entitlement.”
Another research from the University of Warsaw asked 263 people to complete an online questionnaire between April 14 and 30, at the peak of government restrictions.
Just like in other studies, the experts found that stronger levels of agreeableness were associated with greater compliance with coronavirus guidelines, while Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism were connected to lower levels of compliance.
However, they also found that “the way people perceived the situation explained more variance in compliance than the Big Five traits and the Dark Triad traits.”
The ones who believed the pandemic was characterized by duty and was negative in nature were more prone to comply with the guidelines, while the people who saw the crisis as a mating opportunity were less likely to follow the new rules.
“Perceiving a situation as dutiful entails that effort is necessary to fulfill some obligations, which in the current research might be governmental restrictions and a sense of moral obligation to protect fellow countrymen. The COVID-19 pandemic might be perceived as a threat and elicit tension, and anxiety, which, in turn, translates into compliance,” the researchers stressed.
“By contrast, people who viewed the situation as conducive to sex, love, and romance, complied less with restrictions. It is possible that seeing sexual opportunities overrides potential threats related to health or breaking rules.”
The experts also concluded that those who had higher scores on measures like narcissism, psychopathy, or Machiavellianism were more prone to see the current crisis as a positive thing, possibly because they saw the situation as ripe for exploitation.
But surely, not all who stand against COVID-19 guidelines or hoard goods do so due to dark personality traits.
When it comes down to understanding behaviors during the current crisis, there are many factors at play, the researchers noted.
The study, “Adaptive and maladaptive behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic: The roles of Dark Triad traits, collective narcissism, and health beliefs,” was conducted by Bartlomiej Nowak, Pawel Brzoska, Jarosław Piotrowski, Constantine Sedikides, Magdalena Zemojtel-Piotrowsk, and Peter K. Jonason.
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