Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Deniers, Hoarders, Invincibles, Worriers - the many faces of our COVID-19 tribes

Sixteen faces of COVID-19 “personalities” are emerging around the world as people react to unprecedented weirdness in very different ways.

In work published at last month, Norwegian researcher Mimi Lam identifies 16 COVID-19 personality types that are in evidence across the globe as the pandemic grinds on.

She argues that countries need to understand these "viral identities" and strive to educate people in ways that unite people rather than drive them farther apart, and to use the personality types to improve modelling of how the virus will spread in a specific region or country. "The global COVID-19 pandemic unites us with a common virus, but divides us with emergent viral identities," she notes.

“These emergent viral identities are influencing individual behavioural and government policy responses to the heightened uncertainty posed by COVID-19. Individuals often respond to policies by protecting their values and identities, so for some, COVID-19 has reinforced social and political identities,” writes Lam.

“Social identities foster a sense of belonging via attachment to social groups and their behaviours. Salient identities contribute to common views on policies and shape behaviours to benefit in-groups These salient viral identities have heightened inter-group differentiation and explain the rampant racism against the Chinese, as well as initial policy responses of border closures oriented to protect ‘Us’ against ‘Them.’ “

Here are the 16 personality types:

  • Deniers, who downplay the viral threat
  • Spreaders, who want the virus to spread, herd immunity to develop, and normality to return
  • Harmers, who may spit or cough at others or dub COVID-19 “Boomer Remover”
  • Realists, who recognise the reality of its harm and adjust their behaviours
  • Worriers, who stay informed and safe to manage their uncertainty and viral-induced fear
  • Contemplators, who isolate and reflect on life and the world
  • Hoarders, who panic-buy food, toilet paper, and other products to quell their insecurity
  • Invincibles, often youth, who believe themselves to be immune and flock to beaches and parties
  • Rebels, who defiantly flout social rules restricting their individual freedoms
  • Blamers, who vent their fears and frustrations onto others, discriminating against racial groups or health-care workers
  • Exploiters, who exploit the situation for power or brutality
  • Innovators, who design or repurpose resources, for example, for face masks, ventilators, and other medical
  • Supporters, who show their solidarity in support of others through, for example, claps, songs, and rainbows
  • Altruists, who help the vulnerable, elderly, and isolated
  • Warriors, like the front-line health-care workers who combat its grim reality
  • Veterans, who experienced SARS or MERS and willingly comply with COVID-19 restrictions

Lam notes that using these personality types to refine forecasts of COVID transmission and impact could be an important tool in managing the virus. To forecast viral transmission, for instance, these behaviours can be “clustered by their projected compliance” into the modelling, and will reveal the benefits of not just flattening the viral curve but shifting behaviours.

Deniers, Harmers, Invincibles and Rebels are “non-compliers.” Spreaders, Blamers and Exploiters are “partial compliers.” Realists, Worriers, Contemplators, Hoarders, Innovators, Supporters, Altruists, Warriors and Veterans are “compliers.” What works to shift the behaviours of one group can inflame the mood among another. 

Lam cites the different way that countries reacted to social-distancing measures as exemplifying the need for approaches that recognize the 16 types of COVID personalities and identify strategies and modelling that take into account their very different behaviours during a pandemic.

“UK and US models assumed a uniform 85–90 per cent reduction in social contacts, as reported by Chinese citizens. However, unlike authoritarian regimes, liberal democracies cannot compel their populace to follow state-imposed restrictions. Variance in individual responses and willingness to comply with COVID-19 policy interventions can be captured if epidemiological models group individuals by their salient viral identities, informed by demographic variables.”