Summary: Those who flout COVID recommendations are less agreeable, have lower intellect, and tend to be more extroverted than those who adhere to recommendations. COVID non-conformists also prioritize self-interest and personal freedom and show greater tolerance for social deviance, a new study reports.
Source: University of Sydney
People who purposefully breach COVID-19 regulations tend to share certain characteristics, finds a study of attitudes and behaviors in Australia, the UK, the US and Canada.
When people protested the COVID-19 lockdown in Sydney last week, many were speculating about whether a certain type of person was more likely to be involved. Does science back that up?
A new University of Sydney study assessed people’s behaviours and attitudes towards pandemic regulations in Australia, the UK, the US, and Canada. It found that roughly 10 percent of people were noncompliant.
Those individuals were mostly male, less agreeable (cooperative, considerate), less intellectual as a personality trait (less willing to try new experiences), and more extroverted.
Published in high-ranking journal PLOS ONE, the study also found that these people tended to prioritise freedom and their own self-interest. They also perceived their social culture as tolerant to variation in values and behavior, with greater tolerance for deviance. Contrary to the stereotype, most of them were not young.
They also tended to engage less with official sources, such as government announcements and news and engaged more in unhealthy coping strategies such as denial and substance abuse.
“Alarmingly, the non-compliant group were more likely than the compliant group to leave their home to meet friends or family, for religious reasons, because they are bored, and to exercise their right to freedom,” said lead author, Associate Professor Sabina Kleitman from the University of Sydney School of Psychology. This behaviour is a major concern in Australia, especially during the current Sydney lockdown.”
She continued: “Our research reveals the need for targeted interventions to enhance COVID-19 regulation compliance, such as observing physical distancing. More targeted approaches might utilise a variety of media outlets, provide education to help people identify misinformation, and target specific false beliefs.”
The researchers gleaned their results from an online survey of 1,575 participants in March and April 2020. Participants reported their behaviours; attitudes; personality; cognitive/decision-making ability; resilience; adaptability; coping; political and cultural factors; and information consumption during the pandemic’s first wave in 2020.
Those more likely to comply with COVID-19 restrictions (90 percent of participants across four countries) were more likely to be young, educated and/or at-risk due to poorer health.
Compliant individuals were more likely to be female, worry more, and believe in government-mandated protective measures. They coped with stress and anxiety more productively, with strategies like distraction and planning.
Making non-compliers comply
Associate Professor Kleitman identified key strategies to shift non-complaint individuals’ attitudes and behaviours:
Focus more attention/resources on regulating and monitoring misinformation. Non-compliers appear not to use official sources for COVID-19 information, nor do they tend to verify the legitimacy of information.
Frame some public health messages to appeal to self-interest. This may be more effective in promoting positive behaviour change among non-compliant people than appealing to social obligations.
Funding: The research was supported in part by a grant from the University of Sydney School of Psychology, and some funding from the University of Saskatchewan.
To comply or not comply? A latent profile analysis of behaviours and attitudes during the COVID-19 pandemic
How and why do people comply with protective behaviours during COVID-19? The emerging literature employs a variable-centered approach, typically using a narrow selection of constructs within a study.
This study is the first to adopt a person-centred approach to identify complex patterns of compliance, and holistically examine underlying psychological differences, integrating multiple psychology paradigms and epidemiology. 1575 participants from Australia, US, UK, and Canada indicated their behaviours, attitudes, personality, cognitive/decision-making ability, resilience, adaptability, coping, political and cultural factors, and information consumption during the pandemic’s first wave. Using Latent Profile Analysis, two broad groups were identified.
The compliant group (90%) reported greater worries, and perceived protective measures as effective, whilst the non-compliant group (about 10%) perceived them as problematic. The non-compliant group were lower on agreeableness and cultural tightness-looseness, but more extraverted, and reactant. They utilised more maladaptive coping strategies, checked/trusted the news less, and used official sources less. Females showed greater compliance than males.
By promoting greater appreciation of the complexity of behaviour during COVID-19, this research provides a critical platform to inform future studies, public health policy, and targeted behaviour change interventions during pandemics. The results also challenge age-related stereotypes and assumptions.