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Everyone is living through the shared reality of the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis, but not everyone responds to the toll on one’s personal life in the same way.

A recent study found key differences in the way people with “dark” personality traits react to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent study published in the journal Elsevier Public Health Emergency Collection.

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‘Dark’ personality traits respond differently to COVID-19

So-called “dark” personality traits — like psychopathy, narcissism, sadism, and even Machiavellianism — are often connected to negative social outcomes. In clinical psychology, they’re also called the “dark tetrad.”

Looking at 402 people aged 18 to 78 in the U.S., researchers from the University of Mississippi discovered subtle but distinct differences connected to these personality traits, which range from simple cleaning activities to general mood.

“Our findings indicate that during the initial stages of the pandemic in the United States, dark personality differentially predicted cognitive and emotional responses to the pandemic,” wrote the authors in their recent paper.

Some may ‘derive pleasure’ from negative social impacts

The researchers recruited participants via the internet, where they had individuals complete a questionnaire about their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The study ranked personality traits via the Dirty Dozen measure, along with the Assessment of Sadistic Personality test.

Notably, people with Machiavellian and narcissistic traits experienced emotional hardship in dealing with the social upheaval connected to the unfolding pandemic. However, people who self-rated as possessing sadistic traits reported a positive reaction to the coronavirus crisis.

“It may be that these individuals derive pleasure from events that are generally perceived as having a negative impact on society,” wrote the authors.

How varying personality types deal with social upheaval

While these differences were statistically relevant, they were also significantly subtle — since they came from a study involving self-reporting and binary “yes” or “no” answers — which means the ultimate conclusions on this subject is still an open question, Science Alert reports.

This also doesn’t account for the possibility of false positives — namely, the possibility of participants who don’t have clinical conditions of narcissism or sadism, but nevertheless expressed having some of their signature traits.

However, the recent study explores how varying personality types deal with large-scale social upheaval — a pattern we can extrapolate from the current one in which we’re living.

Machiavellian traits linked to greater fear of contracting COVID-19

In addition to the emotional responses, the researchers also looked into how personality types altered their behavior in reaction to the unfolding pandemic.

The study’s results didn’t find a relation between the dark personality traits and hoarding behavior. But people with narcissistic or psychopathic traits were less likely to maintain regular cleaning behaviors — like wiping down frequently touched areas.

Surprisingly, the higher subjects scored in psychopathy or narcissism, the more cleaning behavior decreased in frequency. Notably, people with Machiavellian traits were more afraid of contracting the COVID-19 illness, while individuals with narcissistic traits claim to have participated in behaviors aimed at helping those affected amid the pandemic.

Studying ‘dark’ personality responses to COVID-19 broadens crisis studies

This might sound counter-intuitive, but researchers say earlier research lends support to the idea of narcissists taking part in prosocial behaviors — with the aim of gaining the approval of peers.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly everyone in the world, reproducing and exacerbating social, health, economic, and political issues on unprecedented scales. But due to different forms of psychological persuasion, not everyone experiences these realities in the same way — and narcissists, psychopaths, and aspirational Machiavellian people are showing distinct behavior patterns we could use to build a more comprehensive understanding of how populations respond to times of great upheaval.

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