Updated 04 August 2020

Narcissists and psychopaths more likely to defy coronavirus guidelines

People with ‘dark’ personality traits, such as psychopaths and narcissists, are less likely to comply with pandemic regulations, including wearing a mask, says a new study.

  • Preventative measures are meant to slow the spread of the new coronavirus
  • People with 'dark' personality traits, however, are more likely to flout these guidelines
  • On the bright side, if their beliefs about the virus can be changed, their behaviours might change too

Some of us have been doing our best to help fight the spread of the new coronavirus that is ravaging the world. On the other hand, there are others who simply refuse to wear face masks and practise physical distancing, and experts may have some insight into their non-compliance with these guidelines.

According to a new study, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, participants with ‘Dark Triad’ traits, including narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism, are less likely to engage in preventative behaviour. More than this, they also found that they are more likely to stockpile goods such as food and toilet paper.

This study reinforces the findings of a previous study this year, published in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science (currently available on the PsyArXiv preprint website), that show an association between people with these traits and ignoring preventive measures to fight the virus.

More about the study

The team of six researchers surveyed 755 individuals in Poland during the third and fourth week of governmental restrictions – 15 March to 29 March. This was part of a two-wave, larger investigation on attitudes and behaviours of people during the pandemic. Participants were between the ages of 18 and 78 years, and 46% had a high school education, and 43% a university education, and rated their socioeconomic status slightly above middle-class (423 women, 332 men).

In their paper, they considered the Dark Triad of three types of personalities:

  • Machiavellianism (people who are manipulative and cynical)
  • Narcissism (people with a grandiose self-view and sense of entitlement)
  • Psychopathy (people who are impulsive and emotionally callous) 

According to the results, participants who scored higher on a measure of Dark Triad traits were less likely to engage in preventative behaviours (such as washing hands more often and not leaving the home unnecessarily) and more likely to engage in hoarding behaviours. However, this association was also strongly linked to health beliefs about Covid-19.

Changing people’s health beliefs about Covid-19

The authors wrote that reluctance to engage in preventative behaviour among those characterised by the Dark Triad traits was partially explained by their health beliefs about Covid-19:

“Participants who perceived barriers as high were less likely to engage in preventative behaviour, whereas participants who endorsed all other types of health beliefs were more likely to do so.”

This means that people with so-called dark personalities are not as problematic during the pandemic as one might assume. Magdalena Zemojtel-Piotrowska, one of the authors behind the study, told PsyPost: “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 adapt to social rules recommended by medical experts. Yet, the picture is more complex.”

Zemojtel-Piotrowska went on to explain that although narcissistic people engage more in hoarding (because they are self-centred and also afraid of the coronavirus), there is a difference between collective narcissists – those who are strongly and blindly attached to their own group – and people characterised by dark traits (people who are self-centered and attached just to themselves).

“Collective narcissists do not engage less in preventative behaviours, 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 the effectiveness of such behaviours and they see more barriers to adopt them.”

If the health beliefs and situational perceptions of "dark" people play a more important role than personality traits, as the researchers believe, then there appears to be a bright side, in that, while personality cannot be changed, beliefs can be transformed. 


Live healthier

Lifestyle »

E-cigarettes: Here are five things to know

E-cigarettes have become hugely popular in the past decade, but a rash of vaping-linked deaths and illnesses in the US is feeding caution about a product that's already banned in some places.

Allergy »

Ditch the itch: Researchers find new drug to fight hives

A new drug works by targeting an immune system antibody called immunoglobulin E, which is responsible for the allergic reaction that causes hives.