Extroverts Are Less Likely to Follow COVID Restrictions, Scientists Say

Extroverts are less likely to follow stay-at-home guidance and rules to prevent the spread of COVID-19 than others, according to research.

The study, published in the journal American Psychologist, involved over 100,000 people across dozens of countries. It found those who scored highly for the traits of openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and neuroticism were more likely to shelter-in-place when mandated or advised to by officials. Extroverts, however, were less likely to stay at home.

The participants answered questions that meant researchers could categorize them according to what are known as the Big Five personality traits: extraversion, openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and neuroticism. They also ranked how much they had followed stay at home in the past week, and assessed laws and guidance in countries during that period.

The team found that people were more likely to shelter in place if they were required to by governments. Co-author Andrés Gvirtz, a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge, told Newsweek via email "for the most part, we believe our findings made intuitive sense."

"We also found that more agreeable (i.e., cooperative, compliant, sympathetic), conscientious (i.e., responsible, reliable, practical) and neurotic (i.e., tense, anxious, emotionally unstable) people were more likely to shelter-in-place," he said.

"Likewise, we observed that more extroverted (i.e., outgoing, energetic, sociable) individuals were less likely to shelter-in-place. In each of these cases, the observed relationships align with the conceptual definitions of the respective personality traits and are rather intuitive."

To conduct their research, the authors drew on answers from a worldwide online study collecting information about people's thoughts, feelings and behaviors during the pandemic.

The team looked at data from surveys filled out by 101,005 individuals from 55 countries, between March 20 and April 5. During this period, 47 percent of the countries with more than 1,000 coronavirus cases closed workplaces, and 39 percent had limited people's movements. By April 5, over 85 percent of the countries with over 1,000 cases had imposed restrictions on workplaces and movement. This timeframe "captures large variations in policy stringency," the authors wrote.

They found people who were open conscientious, agreeable, and neurotic were less more likely to shelter-in-place, whereas extroverts were less likely to stay at home.

Co-author Friedrich Götz, a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge, U.K., told Newsweek the study is significant because it shows that individual personality still makes an important difference in whether or not people will stay at home, even under strictly enforced nationwide lockdowns.

Götz said the number of people flouting the rules is likely small but considering the global scale of pandemic and the contagiousness of the virus, even this translate into sizeable numbers of infections and consequently potential deaths.

"It is important to consider that because of their psychological characteristics, some individuals will likely go out more than others," Götz said. "Learning about what characterises such people can be informative in multiple ways, from helping to identify potential so-called super-spreaders to considering communication tailoring in which public health messages are framed to match people's personalities to increase compliance."

Gvirtz told Newsweek that as the data was gathered between March and April, the findings may not still apply.

Another limitation is that the data rely on participants being honest about whether they were sheltering-in-place, he said. "There is research showing, that self-reported pandemic behaviours accurately reflect actual behaviours, but caution is still warranted," Gvirtz said.

The study comes as experts fear the coronavirus will be able to spread more easily in northern hemisphere in the coming months, as the weather cools and people spend more time indoors. Experts who spoke to Newsweek last month said they were concerned festive gatherings, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, could also enable the virus to be transmitted.

The U.S. does not have a national coronavirus strategy that involves mandated restrictions and lockdowns unlike other countries. Instead, residents must follow mandates and guidance on a state and local level.

On Wednesday, Anthony Fauci, a White House Coronavirus task force member, told CBS he would not be spending Thanksgiving with his children this year, order to protect himself for the virus.

Götz said: "If you miss social interactions it is important to remember that there are COVID-19 safe ways, such as videocalls, to stay connected and talk to the people you love. At the moment, it appears that social restrictions in varying forms and shapes will continue to be part of our lives for a while, so finding ways that allow you to comply with them while maintaining your own well-being is key."

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A stock image shows a woman dancing. Extroverts are less likely to follow stay-at-home orders than those with other personality traits, according to a study. Getty
Extroverts Are Less Likely to Follow COVID Restrictions, Scientists Say | Health