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Do extroverts have a harder time with social distancing? Are conscientious people more likely to wear face masks?

University of Louisville researcher Michael Cunningham is investigating what factors, including personality, influence individual decisions on whether to take preventative measures that could help stymie the spread of coronavirus.

“We want to know where those attitudes and mindsets come from,” said Cunningham, a professor of communications. “It’s not just whether you’re going to wear a mask, but the personality factors that are influencing your decision to wear or not wear.”

Working with colleagues at York College of Pennsylvania and assessment and survey company, FifthTheory, in Chicago, he’s developed a Coronavirus Behavioral Health Mindset survey that measures three key dimensions: a person’s individual sense of responsibility to help prevent the spread of the virus, willingness to engage in protective measures, and willingness to practice social distancing. 

The anonymous participants also will answer questions on their personality. From those answers, the researchers will be able to determine where the participant falls on the Big Five, or “OCEAN,” personality measures: Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism.

“We can make some guesses on how these correlate,” he said. “For example, if you’re very extroverted, it’s probably pretty hard to stay at home and not see anyone all day. That’s not saying that you won’t [follow the guidelines], but it’s probably more difficult. We’ll see if that holds true in the data.”

After taking the survey, which is available here, the participants will be shown information on the risk of spreading the virus, along with possible interventions. Participants will be asked to take the survey again a few weeks later, to see if anything’s changed.

The big idea is to identify individual risk early and improve safety. Understanding what triggers those decisions, he said, could be helpful to people working to stop the virus’s spread.

“Scientists have a lot of experience measuring attitudes about workplace safety and driver safety,” he said. “But how individuals think about 24/7 virus prevention safety is a new frontier.”

The survey is open to anyone who goes to the website. Cunningham hopes to complete the survey by late May or early June.