Does refusing to wear a face mask make someone a narcissist? Or a psychopath? With recent research in the news let’s take a look at what the sensationalists won’t tell you. And, what it really means to be around toxic people in medical crisis.
Are the narcissists and psychopaths in your life refusing to wear masks? Most likely NO.
News reports are, unfortunately, not accurately representing the published scientific results. While there is a minor connection between dark personality traits and lack of prevention — not specifically mask wearing — someone’s degree of narcissism and psychopathy is not the most important factor. For the truth of the matter, let’s go directly to the papers and read what the scientists wrote.
Adaptive and maladaptive behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic: The roles of Dark Triad traits, collective narcissism, and health beliefs
The first paper listed describes the result of a survey of 755 individuals in Poland. This survey attempted to determine levels of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy of the respondents; their health beliefs related to recent social restrictions; and their tendency to take preventative measures or hoard.
Here is the summary of their results, copied straight from the article:
- Examined dark personality correlates and health beliefs related to the COVID-19
- Correlated the Dark Triad traits with less prevention and more hoarding
- Collective narcissism was only associated with more hoarding.
- Health beliefs mediated patterns of prevention and hoarding.
Bartłomiej Nowak, Paweł Brzóska, Jarosław Piotrowski, Constantine Sedikides, Magdalena Żemojtel-Piotrowska, Peter K. Jonason, Adaptive and maladaptive behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic: The roles of Dark Triad traits, collective narcissism, and health beliefs, Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 167, 2020
First of all, I would like to point out that collective narcissists are not more likely refuse wearing face masks, according to the study.
In addition, the study makes a big point of analyzing links between perception of narcissists and psychopaths, their “health beliefs,” and their actions. Whether or not a toxic person decided to wear a face mask, or other preventative measure, has a lot more to do with if they believe they benefit from it.
According to the authors —
Participants higher on the Dark Triad traits seemed to be concerned with negative aspects of prevention and not consider the benefits of it.
This is in contrast to the fact that these individuals generally considered themselves more at risk from the virus than other people.
The bottom line is that narcissist and psychopaths only wear face masks when they feel there is a personal benefit to that behavior.
While the respondents in Poland with Dark Triad traits tended to favor hording over prevention, that may not be the same in other culture’s and regions. As the authors point out, Poland — as a former Easter Bloc country — is not fully comparable in terms of culture and values to Western countries.
Who complies with the restrictions to reduce the spread of COVID-19?: Personality and perceptions of the COVID-19 situation
The second article, again by Polish researchers, attempts to connect dark personality traits with the likelihood that an individual followed health restrictions in 2020.
While there is some connection between narcissism, psychopathy, and the unwillingness to follow social health restrictions, these personality traits don’t are only a minor factor in whether an individual followed the rule.
From the mouths of the scientists themselves —
… we have only come a small way in understanding who complies to governmental restrictions in relation to the COVID-19 and, perhaps, restrictions in general. [With personality traits] only accounting for about 10% of the total variance, there is substantial room for improvement in accounting for this rather important variable during times of crisis. We are unconvinced that alternative or more personality traits or improving measurement will meaningfully improve prediction. Instead, it may be that other individual differences may be more important.
Marcin Zajenkowski, Peter K. Jonason, Maria Leniarska, Zuzanna Kozakiewicz, Who complies with the restrictions to reduce the spread of COVID-19?: Personality and perceptions of the COVID-19 situation, Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 166, 2020
Once again — as with the first publication — the researches found that personal beliefs and other individual differences do more to drive mask wearing and disease prevention.
The Truth About Narcissist Psychopaths and Face Masks
None of these results are surprising to someone who has spent time studying the behavior of narcissists, psychopaths, and other toxic people. Psychopaths will always do what they perceive is in their own best interest.
What the research is showing is that many people with dark personality traits do not believe that preventative measures are an overall benefit, and so they are not wearing them. Likewise, they have no urge to “do the right thing” if they don’t perceive a direct benefit to themselves.
However, many narcissists and psychopaths are concerned about getting the disease.
If they perceived the severity of the virus to be higher, or the direct social consequences to be worse than not wearing one, then a narcissist or psychopath may even be more likely to wear a mask than others.
Ultimately, these surveys only polled Polish individuals, and only those of certain social groups willing and able to respond. These studies are not conclusive for populations in other countries, or indeed Poland as a whole.