Moral decision-making during a COVID-19 pandemic appears to be affected by dark personality traits, masculine honor beliefs, and the belief in pure good and evil, according to new research published in Personality and Individual Differences.
The findings suggest that particular personality traits and beliefs play an important role in how people have responded to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
“In my opinion, morality is the underlying framework for all social behavior, so when the world is collectively experiencing an unprecedented situation, it is important to understand factors that affect (moral) decision-making during such times,” said study author Ashley Schiffer, a doctoral student at Kansas State University.
“Moreover, the pandemic presented an opportunity for us as researchers to identify patterns of decision-making when decisions have implications for the health and safety of oneself and others. Decisions during the pandemic are particularly difficult to make when one’s family is involved and/or when lives are at stake, which were some of the main focal points of this research.”
Across three studies, which included 704 participants, the researchers found that masculine honor beliefs, belief in pure good, belief in pure evil, and the dark triad traits (narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism) were associated with COVID-19 decision-making.
“We found evidence that some individuals may be worried about the COVID-19 virus but would not take precautions to alleviate these concerns (specifically individuals higher in beliefs in pure evil, masculine honor beliefs, and the dark triad),” Schiffer said.
People with higher levels of masculine honor beliefs and dark triad traits were more likely to agree with statements such as “Social distancing is bad for my family” and “Individual freedom is more important than public health right now.” Those with higher belief in pure evil and masculine honor beliefs were more likely to agree with statement such as “I should be able to make my own decisions” and “I can take care of myself right now.” But these individuals were also more likely to agree with obsessive statements such as “I had disturbing thoughts that certain people I saw may have the coronavirus.”
Those with a stronger belief in pure good, on the other hand, tended to have more optimistic views of the pandemic and were more supportive of social distancing. The researchers also found that people in general tended to be more willing to take COVID-19 precautions to protect their families than to protect themselves.
In their second study, the researchers presented participants with hypothetical life-or-death decisions, such as whether to steal an overpriced drug to save their mother from COVID-19 or whether to sacrifice one person with COVID-19 to save several others.
“Everyone makes (moral) decisions differently,” Schiffer said. “Most notably, individual differences in beliefs in pure evil, masculine honor beliefs, and the dark triad were associated with making COVID-19 decisions more confidently and for more socially-motivated reasons (e.g., to look good to others, to be the hero) whereas individual differences in beliefs in pure good were associated with greater distress when making COVID-19 decisions.”
In the third study, the participants were asked to provide their opinion on nationwide priorities during the COVID-19 pandemic — in particular, whether to continue social distancing (which might harm the economy) or to reopen the economy (which might increase the spread of COVID-19.)
The researchers found that those with higher levels of masculine honor beliefs tended to favor reopening the economy. In line with the previous study, those higher in beliefs in pure evil, masculine honor beliefs, and dark triad traits were more confident in their decisions.
“Because the pandemic is constantly changing (and keeps presenting new moral dilemmas for people to resolve), it is important to note that our data were collected during the Summer of 2020,” Schiffer said. “This means our findings are technically confined to the first couple of pandemic months within the United States and, therefore, might not apply as well to the pandemic situation we see today.”
“However, family values and individual differences likely still motivate certain moral decisions regardless. Accordingly, future research should explore the newer dilemmas presented by the pandemic, like mask-wearing after being fully vaccinated or businesses’ decisions to require masks or not. We have some newer data on pandemic confrontations that we intend to submit for publication soon as well.”
The study, “Moral decision-making and support for safety procedures amid the COVID-19 pandemic”, was authored by Ashley A Schiffer, Conor J O’Dea, and Donald A Saucier.