“Use your knowledge of social psychological and/or evolutionary theories to explain some of the behavior reported during the Covid-19 pandemic. You may wish to consider the forces behind panic buying of particular items and/or the adherence to the social distancing/self-isolation/mask wearing guidelines.”
To wear a mask, or to not wear a mask: that is the question. The Covid-19 pandemic has posed challenges within societies worldwide. Heavy restrictions and guidelines were enforced globally in an effort to reduce the spread of Covid-19, one of which includes mask wearing. Using mainly social psychological approaches and theories, behaviors of adherence to mask wearing guidelines will be discussed and explained. Specifically, Big Five personality traits, Dark Triad traits, just-world theory, personal construct theory, and conformity can be argued as a response to adhering to mask wearing guidelines and the perpetual increase in Covid-19 cases globally.
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Social psychology is defined, by Hogg and Vaughn (2011), as “the scientific investigation of how the thoughts, feelings and behaviors of individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined or implied presence of others” (p.4). Hogg and Vaughn (2011) further explain the study of social psychologists as studying behavior, which can be observed and measured. Behavior, however, is not limited to motor actions (i.e. running, driving, kissing) but also refers to more subtle actions (a quizzical smile or raised eyebrows) and, more importantly, human behavior in what is said and written. These observable behaviors can then be categorized into trait theory of personality, also known as the Big Five (Costa & McCrae, 1999).
The Big Five personality traits can be characterized as neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness (Costa & McCrae, 1999). Compliance to Covid-19 restrictions and policies can be attributed to some of these personality traits and understanding their role in accounting for individual differences. Neuroticism is a trait with perceptual tendency to avoid danger and overthink adversity, deception, and negativity in situations (Jonason & Sherman, 2020). Therefore, neurotic people will most likely comply with mask wearing policies in order to increase their sense of safety. Agreeable people are also likely to comply with wearing a mask, as they are considerate of others. People that are conscientious are organized and will try to avoid germs, which also invokes compliance to the mask wearing policy in order to avoid being infected. Conversely, people with traits of extraversion and openness tend to be more resistant to pandemic policies. Extraverted people are more social and concerned with mating, which does not bode well for reducing the spread of the virus. However, people with Dark Triad traits are even more likely to resist governmental restrictions because of their darker characteristics of human nature. (Zajenkowski et al., 2020).
Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy constitute the Dark Triad traits (Paulhus & Williams, 2002). Jones (2016) describes the core aspects of Machiavellianism as power seekers and cynics, which may mean governmental restrictions, such as mask wearing, offends their sense of power, independence and self-fulling goals. Additionally, narcissistic people are less compliant to restrictions when their supremacy and liberty are threatened. Lack of compliance with mask wearing policies can also be associated with psychopathic people who are apathetic for whether others are infected. Aspects of these personality traits relate to situational perceptions and understanding why some people adhere or not. People with personality traits characterized by duty and negativity toward the Covid-19 pandemic are more likely to comply with restrictions, such as wearing a mask. Conversely, those who viewed sexual opportunities or situations as more important than health related threats are less likely to comply with rules. Therefore, people with agreeable personality traits will be more inclined to wear a mask than other personalities in the Big Five and especially within the Dark Triad. (Zajenkowski et al., 2020).
When considering the outcomes of wearing a mask versus not wearing a mask, it’s fair to say wearing a mask is not only a restriction put in place for the health of the society but as a measure to keep individuals safe and healthy. Lerner’s just-world theory (1980) stresses adaptive functions of the beliefs in a just world in order to cope with actions and conditions corresponding to societal norms (Wenzel, et al., 2017). The Covid-19 pandemic is a situational event that requires everyone to work together in order to reduce the spread and infection rate of this virus. Therefore, the belief that the world is just to everyone may protect individuals, emotionally and physically (Wang et al., 2020). People’s reliance on institutional trust (i.e. government restrictions) can lead to a belief in a just world to be instrumental in the overall health and safety of individuals and may even promote a sense of trust in others to do the right thing, wear a mask. The theory of a just-world typically presumes that people want to believe they live in a world where bad things happen to bad people and, conversely, good things happen to good people (Wenzel et al., 2017). With that frame of mind, it’s likely to believe that those who don’t wear masks (e.g. Dark Triad and some Big Five trait personalities) are more likely to contract and spread the virus than those who wear a mask. In correlation, those with more considerate personality traits are likely to believe everyone will want to follow government restrictions in an effort to reduce the spread of Covid-19, as a sense of “we’re all in this together”. Contrastingly, people want to maintain their well-being and when something happens to prevent that, they are likely to blame others. An example would be a person that contracts the virus, yet they were adamant about following and adhering to restrictions. They were, in a sense, protected. This interrupts their belief in a just world, it’s not what they deserved. This could lead to disastrous implications that the government isn’t being strict enough or, like the US’s President, weren’t setting a good example for their constituents to follow.
Conformity, as defined by Hogg & Vaughan (2011), is a “deep-seated, private and enduring change in behavior and attitudes due to group pressure” (p. 245). Therefore, conformity can be described as a type of social influence involving a change in behavior or belief in order to yield to group pressure or social norms. Kelman (1958) breaks conformity into three different influential processes: compliance, identification, and internalization. Internalization conformity will be examined for the purposes of mask wearing adherence. Internalization conformity is an internal and external change of behavior (McLeod, 2020). In the US, wearing a mask has been a source of contention for many people, specifically those who are more likely to side with Mr. Trump. As such, Mr. Trump has openly belittled mask requirements and even after contracting the virus belittled his running mate for wearing a mask (Victor et al., 2020). It’s no surprise that the many constituents who voted for him are also anti-maskers. Figure 1 is an example of his expression toward and adherence to mask wearing regulations. Many people in the crowd, not all, are seen adhering to the restriction but it’s quite clear where the leader of the US stands in regard to the mask wearing regulation. Amidst the pandemic, many look up to their leader or other group influencers to determine the correct social norm in reducing the spread of the virus. In this case, Trump supporters are following his lead in being against wearing a mask and are of the belief it’s their “constitutional right”. Anti-maskers believe in their group’s societal norm of freedom of choice; therefore, they can choose to wear a mask or not (figure 2, Tollefson, 2020). Jenness (1932),
Sherif (1936) and Asch (1951) performed some of the best-known experiments on conformity
Figure 1. Trump Greeting Supporters (Victor et al., 2020).
Figure 2. Supports of Trump in a crowded indoor arena (Tollefson, 2020).
psychology dealing with people following the group, even when they knew the group was wrong (McLeod 2020). Trump and the anti-maskers are a perfect example to illustrate this modern-day conformity theory.
As with anti-maskers, “persons differ from each other in their construction of events” (Kelly, 1955). This construction of events may be more likely with the case of loosely expressed restrictions imposed by the government, such as in the US where the seriousness of this virus was grossly downplayed. Kelly’s (1955) personal construct theory suggests people develop personal interpretations, or constructs, about how the world works. He also stated people and their personality differ in their constructs; these constructs are used to anticipate and predict events, which sequentially determines feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Therefore, it’s expected people will differ in their responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. As indicated previously with conformity and the anti-maskers, the restriction to wear a mask is viewed as an affront to their individual freedom and as an extreme disposition from their ideology. As such, those with more consideration for others (i.e. agreeable personality trait) and those believing in a just world are more likely to choose a personal construct view of adhering to mask wearing restrictions. However, there are those that flout regulations and choose a personal construct view that appears to carry more freedom for their construct system (Winter & Reed, 2020). It should be said that the government regulations are a construct in and of itself. The mask wearing regulation is a personal construct perception that involves consideration of a wide range of constructs relevant to alleviating the current situation (Winter & Reed, 2020). The Covid-19 pandemic has caused transitions in people’s interpretation of the world and can be seen as a threat (Winter & Reed, 2020).
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Social psychological approaches and theories have been discussed in an effort to help explain behaviors when it comes to adhering to mask wearing restrictions. Personality traits, such as the Big Five and Dark Triade, were used as examples of how people are likely to respond to situational events. However, there is a link between personality traits and individual differences (i.e. the theory of a just world, conformity, and the way people construct the world around them) when it comes to explaining responses to certain situations. While exploring these approaches and theories, it is clear that behaviors surrounding the compliance of government restrictions is largely dependent on the individual, how they see themselves in this world, and situational events. Covid-19 is a situational event that has affected societies globally.
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