How Individuals With Dark Personality Traits are Reacting to COVID-19

Woman’s face close up, staring in mirror with reflection.
A nationally representative sample of Americans completed measures of the Dark Tetrad as well as perceptions of COVID-19 threat, emergency beliefs, and positive and negative affect in response to COVID-19.

Dark personality traits predict individual responses to global crises, according to results of a study recently published in Personality and Individual Differences.

Though studies have shown certain personality traits to predict behavior during the coronavirus-19 (COVID-19) pandemic, the impact of dark personality traits on affect and cognition in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has not yet been determined.

To investigate the relationship between dark personality traits and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, data from 402 individuals (50.2% women) in the United States were analyzed. The average age of included individuals was 45.38±16.29 years of age. Individuals filled out a series of questionnaires regarding their personalities and thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Dark personality traits, including narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy, were measured using the Dirty Dozen questionnaire. Sadism was measured using the Assessment of Sadistic Personality questionnaire.

Narcissism and Machiavellianism were associated with negative affect while sadism was associated with positive affect and psychopathy was negatively associated with positive affect in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (P ≤.05). Individuals higher in Machiavellianism tended to be more fearful of contracting COVID-19 and individuals higher in Machiavellianism and narcissism perceived greater instability during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Individuals high in narcissism and psychopathy were less likely to engage in cleaning behaviors in response to the pandemic, whereas individuals high in sadism were more likely to engage in cleaning behaviors (P <.05). Individuals with high narcissism had greater odds in reporting that they engaged in prosocial behaviors (P <.05). No dark personality traits were associated with hoarding behaviors.

This study showed that dark personality traits significantly predicted affect, thoughts, and behaviors in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The negative emotional response to the pandemic by individuals with narcissism may be due to the lack of social feedback they are able to get during lockdowns, which they rely on to support their self-image.

Individuals with narcissism may similarly have a negative response to the pandemic as it restricts their ability to exploit others within the social system. The positive emotional response of individuals with sadism reflects their enjoyment of the suffering of others. This information sheds light on how individuals with dark personality traits respond to times of uncertainty.

Limitations to this study include its reliance on self-reporting data, which may bias individuals’ answers regarding their dark traits and prosocial behavior. Some measures have not been previously validated. Future research to replicate current findings with additional assessment measures is warranted.


Hardin BS, Smith CV, Jordan LN. Is the COVID-19 pandemic even darker for some? Examining dark personality and affective, cognitive, and behavioral responses to the COVID-19 pandemic [published online November 7, 2020]. Pers Individ Dif. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2020.110504