Why it matters
Americans increased their protective behaviors to stay healthy as a result of increased fear, according to the study from California Institute of Technology.
- The study — published in the journal Royal Society Open Science — found that anxiety increased people’s desire to stay safe, and probably saved lives.
“A little bit of anxiety is good in this case,” said Toby Wise, lead author of the new study. “It means that people will be more prudent. We found that an individual’s assessment of personal risk affected their behavior more than concerns about the safety of other people. Knowing this helps in the development of public health strategies.”
Awareness led to health
The study asked 400 people in questionnaires for five days after March 11 about their reaction to the pandemic.
- “We found that people’s perceptions changed dramatically during the first few days of the pandemic in the U.S.,” says Wise. “And the more people became aware of the risk to themselves, the more engaged they became in activities like hand washing and social distancing. In the context of a global pandemic, risk perception is highly susceptible to change.”
Previous research suggested that smokers think they have a lesser chance from dying of lung cancer than other people who smoke. This is something called “optimism bias.”
- There were other participants who felt they had low risk of harm from the coronavirus.
- “This group was shown to be less personally affected by the pandemic,” according to a release.
How to change someone’s mind
Changing someone’s mind about the risks of COVID-19 may require appealing to their morals, as I wrote about for Deseret.com.
- New research published in Educational Researcher said moral concerns likely help change people’s thinking about the pandemic.
- People with a “strong moral value on protecting group cohesion and people who value protecting individual freedoms were more likely to reject new information and maintain COVID-19 misbeliefs,” the study said, according to a press release.