Focused & Deliberative Thinkers Slower to Adopt Social Distancing, Now More Hesitant to Get Back to Normal

Sara Kassir
May 4, 2020

(This article is part of our PorTRAITS Series, Stories Told Using pymetrics Data)

While the health impacts of COVID-19 are affecting thousands of families in the U.S., the economic consequences are being felt by millions of people across the country. Communities are desperate to curb the pandemic’s secondary effects by reopening ASAP, but none are certain about whether the general public feels confident enough to take this step. This week, to get a better sense of where these divergent opinions might come from, we conducted a survey to examine how pymetrics’ factor scores relate to user attitudes about the post-coronavirus world.  

The first question we asked respondents was borrowed from a recent Gallup poll. When users were asked how they expect they will react to society’s re-opening, a 59% majority said they would “wait to see what happens,” while 25% said they would “limit their contact indefinitely” and only 16% said they would resume their pre-COVID lives “immediately.” We took an additional look at these responses through the lens of a recent Pew survey question, which asks how closely people are following coronavirus media coverage. As shown below, there does not seem to be much of a relationship between attitudes about re-opening and attention to COVID news.

The majority of respondents are waiting for more information before returning to normal public social interaction, and there doesn't seem to be a correlation between overall media consumption and plans to stop social distancing.

When we examined how pymetrics’ factor scores varied across these responses, a few interesting things stood out. In terms of attention to COVID-19 media coverage, people who lean to the left on our “decision making” factor (and therefore react to situations more instinctively) are less likely to be keeping up on the news. On the other hand, those who claim to be following current events quite closely lean far to the right on this factor, indicating a more deliberative strategy for planning the future. Instinctive individuals are also inclined to say that they will resume their pre-COVID routines as soon as they possibly can, while deliberative actors will need more information before they can take this major step.

Instinctive thinkers are not closely following the news, whereas deliberative thinkers are very engaged. Instinctive thinkers are also ready to start interacting with others publicly, whereas deliberative thinkers tend to be more on the fence.

While much attention is currently being placed on the future, we were curious about taking a quick look back at how our users initially reacted to the outbreak. We asked respondents if, compared to other people they know, they began adopting measures like social distancing “much sooner,” “somewhat sooner,” “somewhat later,” or “much later.”  The group that reported adopting social distancing later leaned more heavily to the right on two pymetrics factors: focus (indicating a consistent work style without reacting to distractions) and attention (indicating a preference for accuracy over speed in processing new information).

On measures of focus, those who are considered very focused (as opposed to multitaskers) took longer to adopt social distancing measures, and those more attention-oriented (as opposed to biased to action) were similarly on the later side of adoption.

Given the all-consuming nature of COVID-19, countless variables are at play in shaping attitudes about how to best respond to this crisis. The pymetrics assessment obviously does not capture important dimensions related to these opinions, like an individual’s financial stability or family situation. However, our analysis does make it clear that people process information to navigate an uncertain world in different ways, and this is a crucial part of understanding the diversity of reactions to our shared context.

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