A new study has found links with a person’s reckless behavior during a pandemic, like flouting social distancing norms designed to stop the spread of the virus, with psychopathic sub-traits in the person.
The study, which awaits publication the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science has been peer-reviewed and is available in a pre-print version, PsyPost reports.
What the author of this study, Pavel S. Blagov, an associate professor and director of the Personality Laboratory at Whitman College, wanted to pursue was to determine the psychology behind certain behavior in people at times of great public crises like this.
Blagov echoed U.S. coronavirus Task Force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx’s sentiments, who said: “There’s no magic bullet. There’s no magic vaccine or therapy. It’s just behaviors. Each of our behaviors, translating into something that changes the course of this viral pandemic over the next 30 days,” on March 31, 2020, when the pandemic has started to take shape.
“It was clear from reports in the media very early in the COVID-19 pandemic that some people were rejecting advice to socially distance and engage in increased hygiene. There can be many reasons for this, and I thought that personality may play at least a small role in it,” Blagov told PsyPost about what led her to pursue the study.
The author pointed out that the so-called Dark Triad (narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy) are interrelated to health problems and health risk behavior, which she assumed will also play a role in a time of the pandemic.
Blagov also noted people with high Dark Triad traits, like the ones mentioned above will knowingly put other people’s health at risk, like hiding for a partner about having HIV or STIs, among others.
The study took place between March 20 and March 23, 2020, when the pandemic was still yet to unfold the way it is today. 502 Americans were involved, asked questions about how they perceive healthcare guidelines from authorities and if they plan to do so, and how would they behave if they were infected, along with other questions for personality assessment.
Fortunately for all of us, majority of the participants in the study reported with positive outcomes – they reported ‘engaging in social distancing and hygiene, planning to continue to engage in these measures, and being willing to do what was necessary to protect the health of loved ones, acquaintances, and strangers,” Blagov said.
But the ouch was when a minority reported, what would be called reckless behavior during a pandemic – meanness, no heed to the greater cause of preventing the spread, reduced likelihood of endorsing health recommendations related to social distancing, in short, they scored higher on the psychopathic substrates of meanness and disinhibition – all of which the researcher found links with other personality traits.
Blagov told PsyPost: “People scoring high on these traits tended to claim that, if they had COVID-19, they might knowingly or deliberately expose others to it.”
But like most studies this too had its limitations, the author chose only US adults, which does not reflect the larger population and the psychology in time of a pandemic. It could be that study’s self-reported nature that has affected the results, although as Blagov noted the study was conducted at a time when the pandemic was yet to unleash fully and may have therefore prevented biasedness.
“The results do not mean that viral disease is spread only by irresponsible or inconsiderate people,” Blagov noted.