Personality and Sheltering-in-Place During the Pandemic

Scott McGreal
8 min readJul 1, 2021

Personality traits affect willingness to stay at home during the COVID-19 crisis.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, people in countries around the world were asked to stay at home or “shelter-in-place” to help prevent the spread of the disease. The effectiveness of sheltering-in-place policies depends heavily on people’s willingness to cooperate. Whether people are willing to stay at home may depend partly on external factors, such as penalties for non-compliance, but also their personal characteristics and inclinations.

A recent study (Götz et al., 2020) examined individual differences in sheltering-in-place using data collected in late March and early April 2020 from 101,005 participants in 55 countries. Their findings showed that sheltering-in-place appeared to be influenced not only by government policies in each country but also by individuals’ personality traits. The findings shed light on what factors influence behavior. Specifically, they put to the test the popular but unproven “strong situation hypothesis” that claims that personality has a weaker influence on behavior when there are clear social norms about how people should behave. Additionally, they have implications for evolutionary theories that certain personality traits influence disease-prevention behavior.

Source: LoganWeaving/Unsplash

In the study, participants were asked to rate how much they had stayed at home during the past week, as a measure of sheltering-in-place. Additionally, they rated themselves on the well-known Big Five personality of openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Furthermore, they assessed the stringency of government policies about sheltering-in-place that were in force in each participants’ country at the time they took the survey. Specifically, the level of stringency was calculated based on policies including some or all of school closing, workplace closing, cancellation of public events, suspension of public transport, implementation of public information campaign, restrictions on internal movement, and international travel controls.

As expected, the stringency of government policies had significant effects on sheltering-in-place, that is, people generally were more likely to stay at home when stricter policies were enforced…

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Scott McGreal

Blogging about psychology research, especially in personality and individual differences, as well as psychedelic drug research, and whatever else takes my fancy