This group of people is less likely to follow COVID-19 guidelines

COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are the highest they’ve ever been and they don’t seem to be going down anytime soon. It’s important now, more than ever, for everyone to follow the health guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, many are still refusing to comply.

New research published in the scientific journal Personality and Individual Differences suggests that those unwilling to comply with the health guidelines put in place may have a greater sense of entitlement.

“We realized that while many individuals were following the [COVID-19 health] guidelines, many others were not,” study author Rachel J. Schlund said. “Reports in the news called out many individuals who choose to ignore the health guidelines, referring to these individuals as ‘entitled’. This led us to wonder if psychological entitlement might actually have something to do with why some individuals refuse to follow the COVID-19 guidelines.”

Schlund defines psychological entitlement as, “a personality characteristic whereby an individual feels more deserving of positive outcomes than other people.”

The researchers started in early April by surveying just over 200 Americans about their thoughts and behaviors during the pandemic, as well as assessing their entitlement.

“As we predicted, people higher in psychological entitlement reported less compliance with the COVID-19 health guidelines than people lower in psychological entitlement,” Schlund said. “For example, people higher in psychological entitlement were more likely to report that they would still attend parties if they felt like it and that they were not engaging in social distancing, making efforts to wash their hands more, or even simply following the rules put in place by their state.”

Schlund also pointed out that those with higher psychological entitlement were more likely to believe that the virus had been blown up and exaggerated by the media.

The researchers conducted a second survey a month later, in May, and found the results to be the same.

In July, they conducted their third, and final survey. This time, the researchers attempted to increase compliance by appealing to self-image concerns. However, they found that telling people they would be viewed positively by following the guidelines did not increase compliance in those who had higher entitlement. In fact, it did just the opposite.

“This is an important finding because it suggests that not all cues to action or messages to persuade individuals to follow the guidelines work uniformly for all people and may even produce the opposite effect for some,” Schlund said.

Schlund did admit that there were some limitations in their research and further research may need to be done.

“First, given the nature of our design, we cannot be sure of ‘the specificity of our results to psychological entitlement,’” she said. “Our results were robust after controlling for several alternative explanations; however, other variables might account for the relationship. Second our results were fully self-reported, and thus, we do not know if individuals were accurately reporting if they had contracted COVID-19. Third, our participants were all from the U.S., and therefore our results do not generalize to other countries.”

However, previous research published in 2017 could have predicted these results.

This joint study from Harvard and Cornell revealed that people with a higher sense of entitlement are less likely to follow instructions in general, especially if they see what’s being asked of them as unfair or inconvenient.

“The entitled people did not follow instructions because they would rather take a loss themselves than agree to something unfair,” wrote the authors.

Study author Emily Zitek said that even when threatened with consequences if they didn’t comply, those with high levels of entitlement still didn’t budge, which was unexpected.

“We thought that everyone would follow instructions when we told people that they would definitely get punished for not doing so, but entitled individuals still were less likely to follow instructions than less entitled individuals,” Zitek said.

Researchers determined that this was due to a narcissistic outlook about how the world should work for them.

“A challenge for (anyone) who needs to get people with a sense of entitlement to follow instructions is to think about how to frame the instructions to make them seem fairer or more legitimate,” Zitek added.

Could that approach help when encouraging people to adhere to COVID-19 guidelines? We can’t be too sure. However, Schlund said that with further research, there may be some hope to get everyone on board.

“Future research should examine if finding ways to address these beliefs (such as through education) could encourage more people to follow the guidelines, especially individuals who are high in psychological entitlement,” she said. “Yet, in the meantime, the general public should be aware that some individuals, specifically, individuals with a higher sense of entitlement, are less likely to follow the guidelines. Thus, people should take precautionary measures.”