Research suggests the more conservative you are, and the less empathy you have, the more likely you are to support the easing of COVID-19 restrictions

28 February 2022

A CQUniversity-led survey conducted among American adults' mid-way through the pandemic' has shown evidence that suggests the more conservative someone is socially and economically' and the less empathy they have for others' the more likely they are to support the easing of restrictions.

The survey asked respondents about the extent to which they supported or opposed the easing of COVID-19-related restrictions' with analysis indicating distinct demographic predictors including age' gender' political affiliation' and social and economic conservatism predicting attitudes to restrictions.

The findings suggest that those with more conservative ideals or political affiliations were less in favour of health-related pandemic restrictions' particularly those respondents who were more socially or economically conservative' or those who identified as Republicans compared with Democrats.

Also investigated were what personality factors influenced attitudes to restrictions with respondents who were more individualist rather than group oriented' less empathic' and with traits stressing competition' more likely to support the easing of restrictions.

Among the strongest predictors of wanting to ease restrictions were beliefs in conspiracy theories related to the pandemic' as well as holding more general conspiracy beliefs such as the World being controlled by powerful secretive forces or events such as UFO sightings being part of government coverups.

Lead researcher' Dr Adam Gerace from CQUniversity Australia explained that the findings' while based on research conducted in the USA' could also apply to an Australian context and assist in the development of messaging for future public health campaigns.

"The results from this study show the importance of different demographic and personality characteristics' as well social ideals' to understanding how people respond to restrictions and what their level of adherence to messaging and governmental directives will be'" Dr Gerace said.

"It also shows that the level of concern or empathy people display for others on the one hand' and preferences for individual freedoms or not liking to be told what to do on the other' can lead to very different responses to restrictions and directives.

"Data from the findings also indicates that both specific pandemic related beliefs' such as concerns for loved ones or judgements of how one's social life have been affected' and more general beliefs' such as in conspiracy theories impact on decision-making around COVID-19 limiting behaviours.

"Understanding the factors that help explain attitudes towards COVID-19 restrictions can inform how best to position health messaging and initiatives going forward' particularly as states or countries open borders."

Dr Gerace added the survey results showed that regardless of demographic predictors' respondents at the time the survey was conducted were generally in favour of maintaining restrictions.

"The pandemic is now entering its third year and so it's likely that many people may have moved from strongly supporting lockdowns to acknowledging the reality that countries are choosing to open' even if they still hold concerns about doing so'" he said.

"Our findings also showed that respondents who were more oriented towards the future were in favour of lifting restrictions during the pandemic' perhaps because they were realistic about the need to ease restrictions in order to reopen the economy.

"Generally' respondents felt that engagement in protective behaviours' such as staying at home while feeling unwell and practicing good hygiene such as handwashing and sanitising' was important.

"The respondents who also felt confident in their ability to follow government directives or restrictions also supported restrictions. This highlights the importance of citizens in any country feeling that they are able to manage risks and adhere to often changing circumstances."

The study' authored by Dr Adam Gerace and Dr Gabrielle Rigney of CQUniversity Australia' and Dr Joel Anderson of Australian Catholic University and La Trobe University is now published in PLOS ONE