A new study has identified several psychological factors, including psychopathic tendencies and narcissism, that are related to vaccine hesitancy. The findings, which appear in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, provide insight into what types of people are predisposed to support or oppose vaccines.
“Once COVID-19 vaccines became widely available, I knew that some portion of the U.S. population would be reluctant to receive them; however, I was quite surprised at how widespread negative attitudes towards COVID-19 vaccines became, leading to my interest in studying vaccine hesitancy,” explained researcher Matt C. Howard, an assistant professor in the Mitchell College of Business at the University of South Alabama.
“After performing some initial studies, I noticed that some people just seemed predisposed to negative attitudes towards vaccines. While many factors influence someone’s decision to become vaccinated, this observation caused me to question whether certain individual differences relate to vaccine hesitancy and vaccination behaviors.”
For his study, Howard recruited an initial sample of 590 English-speaking adults from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing platform. The participants first completed a standard demographic questionnaire. One week later, they completed assessments of personality traits and psychological capital. One week after that, they completed an assessment of vaccine hesitancy. After another week, the participants completed more questionnaires about vaccination. In total, 258 participants completed all four weeks’ worth of surveys.
Of all the variables studied, Howard found that conscientiousness, extraversion, narcissism, psychopathy, and Psychological Capital were positively or negatively correlated with concerns about vaccination, which in turn predicted the willingness to get vaccinated.
“Vaccine hesitancy is a multidimensional concept, and beliefs that vaccines have significant health risks as well as beliefs that someone is too healthy to need vaccines are two dimensions with a particularly strong effect on the decision to become vaccinated,” Howard told PsyPost.
“The individual differences of Psychological Capital, narcissism, psychopathy, conscientiousness, and extraversion each relate to these two vaccine hesitancy dimensions, which ultimately causes them to relate to vaccination behaviors. Psychological Capital and extraversion related to more pro-vaccination perceptions and behaviors, whereas narcissism, psychopathy, and conscientiousness related to more anti-vaccination perceptions and behaviors.”
Psychological Capital describes an individual’s motivation to succeed, their expectancy of positive outcomes, their ability to bounce back from adversity, and confidence in their ability to achieve high levels of performance.
“Therefore, good (Psychological Capital), bad (narcissism and psychopathy), and relatively neutral (conscientiousness and extraversion) individual differences are associated with vaccine hesitancy and vaccination behaviors,” Howard explained.
But he was surprised to find that conscientiousness was associated with heightened vaccine hesitancy. Conscientiousness describes the tendency to be organized and exhibit self-discipline.
“I expected these results regarding Psychological Capital and extraversion because these individual differences are associated with a heightened emphasis on positive outcomes (e.g., benefits of vaccination),” Howard explained. “I also expected these results regarding narcissism and psychopathy because these individual differences are associated with antisociality and distrust (e.g., of vaccine makers). I did not expect the results for conscientiousness. Conscientious people may believe that they can compensate for vaccinations via other health behaviors (e.g., social distancing), but further research is needed to explore this surprising finding.”
“A massive number of questions remain to be answered regarding vaccine hesitancy and vaccination behaviors, and the ample research possibilities cause this to be an area that both graduate and undergraduate students can get involved in research and publishing,” Howard added. “I am currently working on research showing that certain perceptions regarding COVID-19 vaccines (e.g., conspiracy beliefs) cause people to be reluctant to receive other types of vaccines. Thus, perceptions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic may have an influence on health behaviors long after the pandemic has subsided.”
The study, “The good, the bad, and the neutral: Vaccine hesitancy mediates the relations of Psychological Capital, the Dark Triad, and the Big Five with vaccination willingness and behaviors“, was published online on January 20, 2022.