Personality influences how likely you are to stay home amid COVID-19

Your personality influences how likely you are to stay at home during the pandemic — with extroverts most likely to break lockdown rules

  • Experts analysed the behaviours and personalities of people during COVID-19
  • They focussed on the ‘Big Five’ traits, which including neuroticism and openness
  • Data revealed less neurotic and less open people were more likely to go outside 
  • This surprised the psychologists, as open people can often be more risk adverse

Extroverts are more likely to break lockdown rules, a study into how personality affects the likelihood that individuals will stay home during the pandemic has found.

Researchers from Cambridge and the US analysed the behaviours and personalities of more than 101,000 people worldwide during the first wave of COVID-19.

The researchers also found that people who were less neurotic and less open to new experiences were more likely to venture outside of their homes when rules were lax.

The latter finding surprised the team — who had assumed that openminded people, who often take more risks, would be more likely to dismiss stay-at-home guidance.

However, openness has also been associated with more accurate risk perception and a less self-centred viewpoint, which the team said could explain this trend.

Extroverts are more likely to break lockdown rules, a study into how personality affects the likelihood that individuals will stay home during the pandemic has found. Pictured, crowds gather at Bournemouth beach the day before England’s rule-of-six restriction came into force

‘People who scored low on two personality traits — openness to experience and neuroticism — were less likely to shelter at home in the absence of stringent government measures,’ said University of Cambridge psychologist Friedrich Götz.

However, he added, ‘that tendency went away when more restrictive government policies were implemented.’

‘Initially, this was a bit astounding, as open individuals have traditionally been shown to be prone to risk taking, willing to deviate from cultural norms and likely to seek out and approach novel and unfamiliar things.’

‘All of which would arguably put them at greater risk to ignore sheltering-in-place recommendations,’ he commented.

However, the researchers explained, openness traits are also related to making accurate risk perceptions, universalism and identification with other humans.

‘Thus, in the digitalised world in which the current pandemic occurred, these qualities may have led open individuals to follow the Covid-19 outbreak in other countries, realise its severity and act accordingly,’ Mr Götz said.

In their study, Mr Götz and colleagues analysed data from a global survey, undertaken as the pandemic first took hold, that probed how people behaved — as well as how they perceived the behaviour of others — in response to COVID-19.

This included the responses of more than 101,000 participants from across 55 different countries — with the data gathered between March 20–April 5 2020.

Participants were also asked about their demographics — and were tasked with answering a series of personality questions.

This allowed the researchers to grade each respondent based on the so-called ‘Big Five’ personality traits — which include agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism and openness.

Researchers from Cambridge and the US analysed the behaviours and personalities of more than 101,000 people worldwide during the first wave of COVID-19. The team graded each respondent based on the so-called ‘Big Five’ personality traits (pictured) — which include agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism and openness

The researchers also found that people who were less neurotic and less open to new experiences were more likely to venture outside of their homes when rules were lax. Pictured, revellers in Liverpool gathering in groups on the streets after bars closed during COVID-19

Alongside analysing individual behaviours and personalities, the team also looked at the stringency of country-level COVID-19 policies — such as, for example, measures to close schools and workplaces or cancel public events to halt the virus’ spread.

The team found that — together — the extent of government restrictions and personality traits allowed them to predict who would shelter at home.

For example, in countries or areas where restrictions were tighter, the team found that people were more likely to remain in their homes. 

They also found that extroverts were much less likely to follow stay-at-home guidance — while people who scored higher on agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness were more likely to act cautiously and shelter.

However, although respondents who exhibited less neurotic and open traits were more likely to flaunt the rules under lenient restriction policies, this changed when the local government tightened rules.

The team found that — together — the extent of government restrictions and personality traits allowed them to predict who would shelter. For example, in countries where restrictions were tighter, the team found people were more likely to remain in their homes, as pictured

Another explanation for the findings could be rooted in politics, the researchers commented, noting that people with high openness scores tend to be more liberal.

Previous studies have shown that there a strong partisan factor in levels of compliance with social distancing measures, with liberals much more likely to follow public health rules than conservatives — especially in the US.

‘Taken together, the results reaffirm the power of personality as a central driver of behaviour, a force that is not simply eclipsed by governmental policy,’ said paper author and organisational behaviour expert Jon Jachimowicz of Harvard University.

‘Still, stringent governmental policies were able to decrease the influence of two personality traits, demonstrating how macro-level forces can diminish the influence of certain micro-level factors.’

‘Learning what characterises such people can be informative in multiple ways, from helping to identify potential super-spreaders to tailoring public health messages to people’s personalities in order to increase compliance,’ Dr Jachimowicz added.

As national governments relax and tighten rules as the pandemic evolves and subsequent waves of infection occur, understanding how personality affects compliance with restrictions will be key for policy makers, the researchers said.

The full findings of the study were published in the journal American Psychologist.

BIG FIVE PERSONALITY TRAITS

The ‘Big Five’ personality traits are openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

The Big Five personality framework theory uses these descriptors to outline the broad dimensions of people’s personality and psyche.

Beneath each broad category is a number of correlated and specific factors.

Here are the five main points: 

Openness – this is about having an appreciation for emotion, adventure and unusual ideas.

People who are generally open have a higher degree of intellectual curiosity and creativity.

They are also more unpredictable and likely to be involved in risky behaviour such as drug taking.

Conscientiousness – people who are conscientiousness are more likely to be organised and dependable.

These people are self-disciplined and act dutifully, preferring planned as opposed to spontaneous behaviour.

They can sometimes be stubborn and obsessive.

Extroversion – these people tend to seek stimulation in the company of others and are energetic, positive and assertive.

They can sometimes be attention-seeking and domineering.

Individuals with lower extroversion are reserved, and can be seen as aloof or self-absorbed.

Agreeableness – these individuals have a tendency to be compassionate and cooperative as opposed to antagonistic towards other people.

Sometimes people who are highly agreeable are seen as naive or submissive.

People who have lower levels of agreeableness are competitive or challenging.

Neuroticisim – People with high levels of neuroticism are prone to psychological stress and get angry, anxious and depressed easily.

More stable people are calmer but can sometimes be seen as uninspiring and unconcerned.

Individuals with higher neuroticism tend to have worse psychological well-being.

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