Psychological entitlement linked to defiance of COVID-19 rules via perceptions of unfairness, study finds

People with a heightened sense of entitlement are more likely believe that measures intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are unfair, which in turn is associated with reduced compliance with such measures, according to new research from China. The findings are set to appear in the scientific journal Personality and Individual Differences.

“I’m currently undertaking a research program on social and cognitive consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Adherences to the non-pharmaceutical preventive measures such as social distancing, hand washing, and wearing masks are important to mitigate transmission of the coronavirus disease,” said study author Heng Li, a full professor in the College of International Studies at Southwest University, China.

“For scientists, identifying psychological factors that associated with breach of COVID-19 restrictions can help organizations such as universities and companies put in place mechanisms to monitor personality change in organizational behavior.”

A survey of 155 university students found that those who displayed a higher level of psychological entitlement were less likely to comply with containment measures than those with a lower level. Another survey of 167 working adults found the results.

In other words, people who agreed with statements such as “I feel entitled to more of everything” and “I deserve more things in my life” tended to also report defying COVID-19 health guidelines, such as mask wearing and keeping a safe distance from others.

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“Individuals showing higher entitlement are more likely to think that they deserve valuable resources, preferential rewards, and privileged treatment, often with little consideration of their actual performance compared to others in daily life. My study shows that the sense of entitlement is correlated to a lack of engagement with health-promoting behaviors,” Li told PsyPost.

However, both studies relied on self-report survey assessments. To overcome this limitation, the researchers conducted a third study that included a behavioral measure of compliance with COVID-19 health guidelines.

“The vast majority of studies in the literature have investigated the relationship between personality traits and behaviors related to the COVID-19 pandemic through self-report. However, there might be discrepancies between results of self-reported measures in the laboratory and actual behavior in the natural environment,” Li noted.

In the third study, which included 203 individuals, the participants arrived in the lobby of an office building and a research assistant provided them with directions to the laboratory room. The assistant informed each participant that a hand sanitizer dispenser was placed near the laboratory room’s door and instructed them to use it before they entered.

Li found that those who ignored the hand sanitizer displayed a significantly higher sense of entitlement than those who followed the research assistant’s instructions. Those who failed to use the hand sanitizer were also more likely to report that they believed the instructions were unfair.

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“Since fairness perceptions are the underlying mechanism linking psychological entitlement to compliance with social distancing measures to the COVID-19 pandemic, making social distancing measures seem fairer might be an efficient strategy to encourage entitled individuals to comply with them,” Li explained.

“Additionally, when appraising performance during the pandemic, managers may seek to gauge their employees’ inflated sense of psychological entitlement and pay special attention to high-entitlement individuals.”

The findings are in line with research from the United States, which also provided evidence of a link between entitlement and defying COVID-19 rules. But all studies include some limitations, and the current research is no exception.

“Caution should be taken in generalizing these findings outside of China due to various factors such as cultural differences in psychological entitlement, different virus situations, government guidance, or social perception pertaining to the pandemic throughout the world,” Li said. “In addition, since psychological entitlement is a multidimensional construct, future research should investigate how different facets of entitlement are related to breaching coronavirus restrictions.”

The study, “Follow or not follow?: The relationship between psychological entitlement and compliance with preventive measures to the COVID-19“, was published online January 21, 2021.

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