Extraverts more likely to refuse vaccines

3 minute read

Like we needed another reason to resent them.

Which personality traits would you guess are most associated with vaccine refusal?

OK, yes, I’m sure we can all come up with our own designations for such traits, many of them unprintable.

A lot of previous research on the psychological/personality foundations of vaccine hesitancy has focused on political ideology and knowledge, which tend to be conservative and low, respectively. This tallies with other cautionary behaviour such as wearing masks and social distancing.

But when it comes to the old Big Five – openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism – studies have produced wildly discordant results.

This new study, conducted by political scientists out of the universities of Toronto and El Paso, took a series of large Canadian surveys during the covid pandemic with a final total sample of over 26,000 people. They measured their attitudes towards vaccination (yes/no/unsure) and their scores on each personality variable, controlled for age, education level, income, gender, region and wave fixed effects (i.e. the stage of the pandemic) and were surprised by some of their results.

They found no personality trait distinguished vaccine accepters from the hesitant, but very strong contrasting effects between accepters and refusers.

Overall, the strongest effect was with agreeableness: every standard deviation drop in agreeableness made you nearly 30% more likely to be a vaccine refuser. Nothing counterintuitive there.

Weaker effects in the same direction were seen for openness and conscientiousness – again unsurprising – as well as for negative emotionality (a component of neuroticism).

But extraversion was the unexpected odd one out: increasing extraversion made you nearly 20% more likely to be a vaccine refuser.

You’d think those life-and-soul types would be signing up for anything that allowed them to get back to the party sooner, but it seems that doesn’t follow.

The surveys were taken between November 2020 and July 2021, so the authors were able to map the strength of the associations across time. As vaccination rates grew, agreeableness, openness, and conscientiousness seemed to matter less, meaning some harder-to-reach groups were brought on board progressively as the vaccine was rolled out.

Negative emotionality went the other way, however, and for extraversion there was no change.

The extraversion result, the authors say, “is a peculiar finding deserving of further research. We might have expected extroverts to be more amenable to vaccination as a means of reducing the risk of social activity.”

Future vaccination campaigns can learn from this study whom to target, they say, and also be reassured that some trait-based differences are amenable to change – all except those bleeding extraverts.

Send story tips to penny@medicalrepublic.com.au for an instant personality enhancement.

End of content

No more pages to load

Log In Register ×