Media releases

  • Personality traits linked to COVID response in young adults

    MEDIA RELEASE: 22 September 2020 – R0142

    Young adults who are lax with abiding by COVID-19 protocols score low on the honesty-humility and conscientiousness categories of a scale measuring personality traits, says new Brock University research.

    The recently released study “The influence of demographics and personality on COVID-19 coping in young adults,” found introverts find it more difficult coping with the isolation of lockdowns than their extroverted counterparts.

    And if you want to get youth to abide by COVID-19 protocols, it might take some hard lessons.

    “What our findings suggest is that if you want to get more young adults buying into it, you have to make the consequences more immediate and more personal, so things like higher fines, expulsions from schools, and emphasizing COVID-19 can still make young adults very sick,” says Brock Professor of Child and Youth Studies Tony Volk, lead author of the study, published September 15 in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

    In May, Volk and his team sent out four online questionnaires to 516 young adults between the ages of 24 and 35 in Canada and the U.S.

    “We were interested at the beginning of the pandemic in seeing whether personality related to people’s responses to COVID,” he says. “At that time, it was already emerging the group least likely to comply with COVID restrictions in Europe were young adults, so in a sense, we could see this happening.”

    The first two questionnaires asked participants their concerns about the future, in their personal lives and their employment prospects. The third questionnaire was based on the Fear of COVID-19 Scale, while the fourth measured distinct areas of behaviour change — both adaptive and maladaptive — since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The questionnaires measured personality traits using the HEXACO Personality Inventory. Co-developed by Brock and the University of Calgary, it measures six major dimensions of personality: honesty-humility; emotionality; extraversion; agreeableness (versus anger); conscientiousness; and openness to experience.

    Volk says the HEXACO scale is able to pinpoint people’s motives and identify patterns more precisely than other personality scales to differentiate “between behaving badly because they’re being selfish, because they’re angry and lashing out, or because they’re callous or overly anxious.”

    The team found a strong link between conscientiousness and planning and problem-solving, which Volk says indicates “the ability to think in a forward way, be disciplined, prepare, and follow rules and regulations.”

    Low scores in the conscientiousness and honesty-humility measures were associated with failure to follow COVID-19 protocols and negative coping behaviours such as drinking, partying and having bleak thoughts.

    The team found a strong link between conscientiousness and planning and problem solving, which Volk says indicates “the ability to think in a forward way, be disciplined, preparing, following rules and regulations.”

    On the flip side, lower levels of conscientiousness translates into a lack of planning, being less future-oriented and living more for today, “so being selfish was also associated with being willing to take risks for your own immediate benefit without considering necessarily the future consequences,” says Volk.

    Making the situation worse is the perception that young adults are less likely to catch and die from COVID-19, making them less personally affected by the virus and the consequences of breaking pandemic rules, he says.

    Youth who didn’t abide by COVID-19 protocols weren’t motivated by anger or rebellion, unlike some adults who don’t follow these measures. Youth are primarily focused on self and the “here-and-now.”

    Other findings include:

    • People with higher incomes have more available options for support, including social and emotional support
    • Parents who have many children are likely to seek out avoidance strategies such as consuming more alcohol as a way of coping
    • Women are more likely to engage in problem-solving, but they have greater anxiety; men are more likely to practise avoidance behaviours and display higher selfishness and/or recklessness

    Funding the study was the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and Brock’s Faculty of Social Sciences.

    Brock Professor of Child and Youth Studies Tony Volk is available for media interviews.

    For more information or for assistance arranging interviews:

    * Dan Dakin, Manager Communications and Media Relations, Brock University or 905-347-1970

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    Categories: Media releases

  • With the right messaging, youth will eat lab-grown meat, says Brock research

    MEDIA RELEASE: 17 September 2020 – R0141

    A new Brock University study has shown that youth looking for alternatives to traditional meat will consider ‘cultured meat’ with the right communications.

    Meat grown in a laboratory, known as cultured meat, is a viable alternative to the environmentally destructive traditional animal farming industry, says Brock Professor of Biological Sciences and Psychology Gary Pickering.

    But, will people go for it?

    Pickering and lead author master’s student Shannon Ruzgys answered that question in a study published recently titled “Perceptions of cultured meat among youth and messaging strategies.”

    “We aimed to understand the preconceived opinions that youth held towards cultured meat and how we could use those opinions to frame the product,” says Ruzgys.

    Pickering says the team decided to focus on young people because while “youth are often ignored in market intelligence studies,” they generally have more flexible dietary habits and their food choices will have a greater accumulative impact on the environment.

    In an online questionnaire, the researchers asked 214 Canadians with an average age of 20 years old a series of questions after having them read a description of cultured meat and how it’s grown in the laboratory.

    The survey polled participants’ opinions on how healthy, natural, environmentally friendly, ethical and disgusting they thought cultured meat is, and asked for their thoughts on taste, cost, viability and benefits of the alternative meat option.

    The researchers also asked participants to fill out two scales that measured ‘food disgust,’ which the study describes as being “a natural biological response that can lead to avoidance of some foods,” and “food neophobia,” a personal trait that describes one’s willingness to try new food.

    Among the researchers’ findings:

    • Youth see cultured meat as promoting animal welfare and being environmentally friendly, but also being “unnatural”
    • Most respondents see personal benefits to eating cultured meat
    • An important factor when considering whether they would consume cultured meat is whether it tastes the same as farmed meat
    • Food disgust, but not food neophobia, impacts the initial intent to eat cultured meat

    The research then sought to evaluate the effectiveness of certain types of messaging by first asking participants how likely they would be to try lab-grown meat, incorporate it into their diets or completely replace farmed meat or meat alternatives with cultured meat.

    Evaluations were then repeated after youth were exposed to two sets of statements. One set consisted of educational information, such as, “There is no animal suffering involved in the production of cultured meat,” and one framed cultured meat as natural, such as, “No chemicals, hormones, or pesticides are used in the production of cultured meat.”

    Pickering is hopeful that with the right messaging, lab-grown meat will catch on.

    “Giving people information about the benefits of cultured meat does change their intent to both try it and incorporate it into their diets; likewise, if you frame cultured meat as being a natural product,” he says. “Those are two pieces of information that marketers, communicators and pro-environmental groups can use to promote this product.”

    Pickering says the timing of these findings is important, with cultured meat expected to be commercially available in the coming months.

    Proponents of lab-grown meat cite animal cruelty and environmental concerns with traditional animal agriculture as two main reasons to support cultured meat. For instance, the study says about 18 per cent of global greenhouse gas (emissions can be attributed to animal agriculture.

    The study was published in the August edition of the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems.

    Brock Professor of Biological Sciences and Psychology Gary Pickering and master’s student Shannon Ruzgys are available for media interviews.


    For more information or for assistance arranging interviews:

     * Dan Dakin, Manager Communications and Media Relations, Brock University or 905-347-1970

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    Categories: Media releases