COVID-19: what is the psychological profile of those who do not adopt barrier gestures?

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A Swiss study shows that the psychosocial profile of people who resist adopting appropriate protective behaviors against the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is invaluable information for the prevention of epidemics.

It is important to know the psychological and social profiles to understand the way in which protective actions are taken against contagious diseases such as Covid-19, and thus define the appropriate preventive approaches. At the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, before binding action was taken, a team of health behavior specialists from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) collected data related to the adoption of barrier gestures. Through a study published in the journal Applied Psychology: Health and Well Being, they analyzed how the British followed the recommended precautions in their country.

"We are trying to understand how people make decisions and act to intervene preventively," the scientists explain. Because it is by identifying specific psychosocial profiles that it would be possible to provide clues to more effective prevention messages. The UK was taken as a model because the country had not yet entered containment in March, unlike Switzerland. A total of 1,006 British citizens were used as the basis for the study, which consisted of asking them a series of questions regarding the monitoring of the adoption of the barrier gestures recommended at the time by the British health authorities.

Few sociodemographic differences

"We measure variables such as perceived vulnerability to Covid-19, perceived severity of this disease and other beliefs," said Professor Nana Ofosu, a co-author of the study. The scientists observed that the barrier gestures were adopted spontaneously by a large part of the population. A phenomenon that is not surprising according to them because "reporting the presence of a danger is enough to cause a massive and rapid change in behavior. We have seen it in other situations, such as the AIDS pandemic." But factors such as level of education, age, family environment, and number of reported cases did not influence behavior in any way.

A result that, therefore, contradicts "the rumors that affirm that certain categories of the population, such as young people, were less respectful of instructions than others." They also asked the participants if they agreed with this statement: "If no one does, why would I be the only one to make the effort? It turns out that the more a person agrees with this question, the less they adopt barrier gestures. The researchers also found that another factor can negatively influence the adoption of barrier gestures: the "drop in the bucket," that is, the feeling that ones contribution is worthless compared to the magnitude of the danger.

Barrier actions: prevention messages must be refined

"The study highlights the fact that the more the participants have social contacts, such as professional relationships, the more vulnerable they feel, without this stimulating their adoption of appropriate actions," they point out. Therefore, the study notes that beliefs about Covid-19, such as feeling vulnerable or thinking that the disease is dangerous, have little impact on the adoption of barrier gestures. But the people least inclined to adopt them are those who consider that the precautions others take make theirs unnecessary. For researchers, the way of communicating about Covid-19 should not, therefore, focus only on the dangerousness of the virus.

"It is important to know the real determinants of behavior before starting a preventive action so as not to lose the expected objective. Most of those interviewed were already convinced of the importance of respecting the recommendations. Therefore, this type of message does not influence their behavior "the researchers concluded.

Note that a recent study published in July indicated that there would be a link between wearing a mask to combat the Covid-19 epidemic and individual personality traits. Thus, people considered narcissists, psychopaths, and Machiavellians would respect barrier gestures less than others.

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