Lockdown or not, personality predicts your likelihood of staying home during the pandemic

Person lounging on the sofa Credit: By soumen82hazra from Pixabay

Despite more of the population staying at home as government policies on COVID-19 become stricter, a study has found that a person’s personality influences how likely they are to stay at home during the pandemic - and cannot be entirely overridden.

A team of psychology researchers from Cambridge, Columbia and Harvard Universities surveyed over 101,000 people in 55 countries to find out whether they were staying at home because of coronavirus between late March and early April 2020. The results are published in the journal American Psychologist.

The researchers found that extroverts are least likely to follow official guidance to stay at home. The team suggest that tailoring public health messages towards the more extroverted in society could encourage greater overall compliance in populations and help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“Extroverts are gregarious and sociable, and they found it especially hard to stay cooped up at home and not see other people. They were most likely to break lockdown rules, and stayed at home less than people of any other personality type during March and April,” said Friedrich Götz, a PhD researcher in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Psychology, and first author of the report.

Late March and early April 2020 coincided with the early, accelerating stage of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was also when government policies on staying at home varied between countries and were changing rapidly over time. Halting the spread of coronavirus relied on people following official guidance. 

The survey explored the five key traits commonly used by psychologists to characterise personality: agreeableness, conscientiousness, extroversion, neuroticism, and openness. Agreeable people tend to be more compliant and trusting, and conscientious ones are diligent and law-abiding. People scoring highly for these personality traits tend to stay at home when advised to do so.

People who scored as highly neurotic, and those with very open-minded personalities decided to stay at home more even before lockdowns were put into place - they were already concerned about catching coronavirus. The researchers think that as restrictions on movements lift, these groups are more likely to maintain social distancing than other personality types.

“Highly neurotic people had decided early on that this virus wasn’t something to mess with, and they were staying at home,” said Götz.

“Open-minded people tend to be very well-connected and interested in the wider world, so we think they realised the potential impact of coronavirus earlier than others and acted accordingly,” added Andrés Gvirtz, a PhD researcher in Cambridge’s Department of Psychology and second author of the study.

He added: “Watching TV reports of the COVID-19 situation in Italy for instance, which was ahead of the UK in terms of the impact of the virus, was informing the behaviour of open-minded people at the beginning of the pandemic.”

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Image Credit: By soumen82hazra from Pixabay

Reproduced courtesy of the University of Cambridge


The University of Cambridge is acknowledged as one of the world's leading higher education and research institutions. The University was instrumental in the formation of the Cambridge Network and its Vice- Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, is also the President of the Cambridge Network.

University of Cambridge (cam.ac.uk)