In mid-2021, Brazil was an epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic and scholars have claimed that managing the pandemic largely became the responsibility of the citizens, rather than the government. Thus, insight into personality traits that might predict responses to the pandemic could be useful. Research published in Personality and Individual Differences found that “dark” personality traits (psychopathy, Machiavellianism, narcissism, sadism, spitefulness) are generally associated with less worry about the pandemic and maladaptive responses to measures against COVID-19.
Researchers Renan P. Monteiro and colleagues were interested in Machiavellianism (e.g., cynical outlook on humanity, highly manipulative), psychopathy (e.g., emotional coldness, lack of empathy), and narcissism (e.g., unrealistic sense of entitlement, grandiosity), which are referred to as the “Dark Triad” of personality traits.
“There are multiple reasons why some people prioritize themselves more than the health of others, including a range of personality variables: lower levels of empathy, higher levels of deceitfulness, and higher levels of the so-called Dark Triad,” wrote the researchers.
Researchers measured two additional dark personality traits, sadism (e.g., enjoying watching someone suffer) and spitefulness (e.g., wanting to hurt or annoy others), to create the Dark Pentad of all five dark traits.
“A personality trait is considered dark when, regardless of context and magnitude, it is associated with interpersonal problems and potentially destructive behaviors.”
Researchers believed it important to contribute to the body of research done in North America and Europe on dark personality traits and COVID-19 response with a Brazilian sample considering the concerns over the Brazilian government’s handling of the pandemic.
Researchers recruited a sample of 469 participants via social media. Participants were measured for general worry about COVID-19, maladaptive/adaptive responses to COVID-19, and the Dark Pentad personality traits. An example of a maladaptive response might be agreeing with the statement “There is nothing we can do about it” and an adaptive response might be adopting better hygiene practices.
The Dark Pentad was overall negatively correlated with worry about the pandemic. In other words, those with higher Dark Pentad scores were generally less concerned with the pandemic. Higher Dark Pentad scores were also generally associated with less adaptive responses and more maladaptive responses to the pandemic.
Follow-up analyses drew particular attention to psychopathy and sadism. Among the five dark traits, these two were uniquely associated with general worry and pandemic response in that higher scores on these traits predicted less worry, more maladaptive responses, and less adaptive responses.
“Spitefulness was not associated with concerns about the pandemic, but it was positively and more strongly associated with maladaptive responses than the other four dark traits. This is in line with the central aspect of spitefulness: harming other people even if it means harm for oneself.”
Put together, results show that dark personality traits may have some association with different responses to the pandemic.
Social desirability, the tendency for people to present themselves in a favorable way, could be a limitation of this study in that participants may have responded to these measures in compliance with measures against the spread of COVID-19. Similarly, they might have responded to score low on the dark personality trait measures as these are generally undesirable traits. Further, these data are purely correlational so any conclusions on the effects of personality traits on COVID-19 responses cannot be made.
The study, “The dark side of Brazil: Effects of dark traits on general COVID-19 worry and responses against the pandemic“, was authored by Renan P. Monteiro, Gabriel Lins de Holand Coelho, Paul H.P. Hanel, Roosevelt Vilar, Valdiney Veloso Gouveia, Emerson Diogenes de Medeiros.