Dr Miriam Stoppard: It’s tougher for extroverts to stay inside in lockdown

Extroverts turn out to be the least likely to follow official guidance to stay at home

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Whether you comply with Covid-19 pandemic rules, such as staying at home during lockdown, depends more on your personality than ­anything else. Surprised? I was.

A survey of 101,000 people in 55 countries carried out by a team of psychology researchers from Cambridge, Columbia and Harvard universities asked whether they were staying at home between late March and early April.

Extroverts turn out to be the least likely to follow official guidance to stay at home. This led the team to suggest tailoring public health messages towards extrovert people to encourage compliance 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 in March and April,” said Friedrich Götz, Cambridge University researcher and lead author.

The survey examined the five key personality traits used by ­psychologists: openness, agreeableness, ­conscientiousness, extroversion and neuroticism.

Agreeable people tend to be more compliant and trusting, conscientious ones are diligent and law-abiding.

People with these personality traits tend to obey the rules and stay at home when advised. People who scored as highly neurotic, and those with very open-minded personalities, stayed at home even before lockdowns so would be more likely to socially distance than other people anyway.

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“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, another Cambridge researcher 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.”

As governments tightened ­lockdown rules in late March and early April at the height of the pandemic, the study recorded over 80% of people across the world staying at home ­irrespective of personality.

“Government regulations very much influence the behaviour of the population at large,” said Götz, “but we need to recognise that not all of the people will follow all of the rules. Extroverts pose a particular challenge.”

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