Coronavirus: Psychopaths less likely to practice social distancing, study shows

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People with psychopathic traits are less likely to practice adequate social distancing, thereby exposing others to risk of coronavirus infection, according to a study published in the peer-reviewed science journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Social distancing policies have been in place since the onset of the virus, with authorities telling people to stay home and maintain adequate distancing with others when outside. There have, however, been numerous reports of people deliberately breaking social distancing measures, such as so-called “coronavirus parties” in the US.

According to the journal study, people with psychopathic traits are more likely to be among those who broke the rules.

“Dark traits (esp. psychopathy, meanness, and disinhibition) predicted low endorsement of health behaviors and the intent to knowingly expose others to risk,” Pavel Blagov, the study’s author, wrote in the report.

Blagov noted that a person’s personality traits can help broadly predict their behavior toward public health messages and their actions during a pandemic.

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“Psychopathy and, to some extent, narcissism and Machiavellianism, predict not only antisocial tendencies (including aggression and violence), but also various health behaviors and outcome,” he wrote.

Psychopathy can be understood as a range of characteristics revolving around a lack of empathy, and can include other characteristics, such as egocentricity, deceptiveness, and manipulativeness, Blagov wrote.

These personality traits could lead those with so-called “dark traits” to willingly dismiss or act opposed to public health messages, and deliberately endanger others, the report said.

The online study was conducted with 502 respondents who filled out a questionnaire between March 20 and March 23, 2020 on how they had complied with measures meant to limit the spread of the coronavirus. It also asked how they would act if they were infected, and assessed the respondent’s personality.

“In planned and exploratory analyses, meanness and disinhibition (and overall psychopathy) as well as Machiavellianism (to a lesser extent) predicted lower intent for social distancing and hygiene. Together with boldness, the psychopathy traits predicted endorsement of risky, venturesome behavior (when participants were asked to imagine being disease carriers),” the report said.

“Meanness and disinhibition (and overall psychopathy, but not boldness) predicted endorsement of behavior that puts others at risk of infection (knowingly, and perhaps deliberately). This corroborates the link between psychopathy and unethical everyday behavior.”

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