Individuals relatively higher in psychological entitlement, or “entitled people,” were less likely to report that they were following or would follow the health guidelines of the COVID-19 pandemic and were more likely to report that they had contracted COVID-19 than people lower in psychological entitlement, researchers found in 3 studies that were published in Personality and Individual Differences.
In the first 2 studies, the researchers explored possible explanations for the association, and in the third study, they attempted to appeal to the self-image concerns people with higher psychological entitlement may hold.
In the first study, the researchers surveyed 201 individuals (128 men and 73 women, mean age 37.5 years, standard deviation (SD)=11.8 years) from the United States who they had recruited from Amazon Mechanical Turk (mTurk) on April 3, 2020. Participants completed the Psychological Entitlement Scale (PES), the Ten-Item Personality Inventory (TIPI), the Health Behavior Checklist, and a questionnaire of behavioral practices and concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.
The researchers found in the first study that the psychological entitlement was negatively correlated with following the COVID-19 health guidelines, concern about getting sick, and concern about others. People with higher psychological entitlement were also more likely to believe that the threat of the virus was overblown.
In the second study, the study authors recruited 502 participants (306 men,195 women and 1 other, mean age 35.8 years, SD=11.3 years) via mTurk on May 1, 2020. These participants completed the PES, the TIPI, and were asked if they thought they had contracted COVID-19 and to respond to attitude and behavior statements regarding the pandemic.
The researchers found in this second study that psychological entitlement was again negatively correlated with following the COVID-19 guidelines, such as social distancing, and the people with this trait were more likely to think that they already had contracted COVID-19, would be able to handle getting sick, and that the threat of the virus was overblown. They also were less likely to think they would get sick and less likely to be concerned about harming other people.
Rerunning the correlations and regressions controlling for agreeableness, the researchers again concluded that entitled individuals had a lack of concern about harming others and believed that the threat was overblown.
In the third study, the researchers wanted to find out if they could persuade the entitled individuals to follow COVID-19 pandemic guidelines by telling the participants of the impact not following the guidelines that others would view them positively if they followed health guidelines. The investigators recruited another 301 participants (168 men and 133 women with a mean age 38.5 years, SD=12.4 years) from mTurk on July 15, 2020. These participants completed the PES, the TIPI, and a rating of political views.
The researchers also asked participants if they thought they had contracted COVID-19 yet and asked them whether they would engage in behaviors that met COVID-19 guidelines in two imaginary role play scenarios: a walk downtown and a party. In between responding to the two scenario questionnaires, the participants read a self-image prompt which stated that people believed following the health guidelines is important and that people think positively about those who follow guidelines and negatively about those who don’t.
In this study, the researchers found that the effect of entitlement on following health guidelines was reduced, which they said may have been because the scenarios were imaginary. In a linear mixed effects regression model with a random intercept for the participant to account for the repeated observations, they found that people low in entitlement (1 SD below the mean) increased their adherence to the guidelines (b =.09, P <.001) and that the prompt appeared to have no effect (b = -.02, P =.374) on people high in entitlement (1 SD above the mean) and appeared to be somewhat counterproductive (b = -.08, P =.058) on people very high in entitlement (2 SD above the mean).
Limitations of the study included other possible explanations for the results beyond entitlement, the self-reported nature of the results, the inability to generalize results to other countries, and the researchers’ inability to increase compliance with pandemic health guidelines, the researchers said.
Across the 3 studies the study authors found that entitled people were less likely to report that they were following or would follow the health guidelines of the COVID-19 pandemic, and they were more likely to report that they had actually contracted COVID-19. Their noncompliance seemed to be most likely due to their lessened concern about harming others and their increased belief that the threat of the virus was overblown (Study 2), and appealing to their self-image concerns did not increase their compliance (Study 3). “We found that psychological entitlement can also put people at risk of contracting a potentially serious illness. Thus, being entitled may pose a danger to people both psychologically and physically,” the investigators said.
Zitek EM and Schlund RJ. Psychological entitlement predicts noncompliance with the health guidelines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pers Individ Dif. Published online October 29, 2020. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2020.110491
This article originally appeared on Psychiatry Advisor