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Media opportunity: Dal researchers examine how gender, personality traits may affect emotional and behavioral responses to COVID‑19

Posted by Communications and Marketing on October 28, 2021 in News

The COVID-19 pandemic presented a question to people around the world: how would they respond to the global health crisis? Would they become distressed and anxious about potentially contracting the virus? Would they adhere to public health measures aimed at preventing the spread of the pathogen?

It soon became clear that some of the biggest challenges in managing the pandemic would relate to those different responses -- people’s excessive worry about COVID and, conversely, the failure to follow rules around containing its spread.

Researchers at Dalhousie and York universities investigated factors that predict these two types of responses to the pandemic and recently published their findings in the journal, Personality and Individual Differences.

They found that both gender and personality traits predicted pandemic-related distress and adherence. Women and those high in a trait called 'anxiety sensitivity,' or fear of fear, were more susceptible than others to pandemic-related distress. Such people, for example, may misinterpret harmless physical sensations as signs they have developed COVID-19.

Men and those high in sensation seeking or impulsive traits were more likely than others to not follow public health measures. Sensation seekers were more likely to leave the home for non-essential reasons during lockdown, likely due to their high need for novelty and their predisposition to boredom. Impulsive people were less likely to adhere to social distancing measures.

Professors at five university-based sites across the country, including Dalhousie, have developed a program, called UniVenture, to help students with these traits achieve their goals and reduce their distress or risk-taking, even in the context of a global pandemic.

Dr. Sherry Stewart, a professor in Dal’s Department of Psychiatry, co-authored the study and is available to discuss the findings and how UniVenture’s personality-targeted interventions could be useful in addressing both anxiety and non-compliance for people with these traits.


Media contact:
Alison Auld
Senior Research Reporter
Communications, Marketing and Creative Services
Dalhousie University
Cell: 1-902-220-0491


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