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Changes in risk perception and self-reported protective behaviour during the first week of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States

Wise, Toby and Zbozinek, Tomislav D. and Michelini, Giorgia and Hagan, Cindy C. and Mobbs, Dean (2020) Changes in risk perception and self-reported protective behaviour during the first week of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. Royal Society Open Science, 7 (9). Art. No. 200742. ISSN 2054-5703. PMCID PMC7540790. doi:10.1098/rsos.200742.

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Efforts to change behaviour are critical in minimizing the spread of highly transmissible pandemics such as COVID-19. However, it is unclear whether individuals are aware of disease risk and alter their behaviour early in the pandemic. We investigated risk perception and self-reported engagement in protective behaviours in 1591 United States-based individuals cross-sectionally and longitudinally over the first week of the pandemic. Subjects demonstrated growing awareness of risk and reported engaging in protective behaviours with increasing frequency but underestimated their risk of infection relative to the average person in the country. Social distancing and hand washing were most strongly predicted by the perceived probability of personally being infected. However, a subgroup of individuals perceived low risk and did not engage in these behaviours. Our results highlight the importance of risk perception in early interventions during large-scale pandemics.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription Material ItemData CentralArticle
Wise, Toby0000-0002-9021-3282
Zbozinek, Tomislav D.0000-0003-0187-671X
Michelini, Giorgia0000-0002-0887-7582
Hagan, Cindy C.0000-0002-4576-7120
Mobbs, Dean0000-0003-1175-3772
Additional Information:© 2020 The Authors. Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, provided the original author and source are credited. Manuscript received 01/05/2020; Manuscript accepted 07/09/2020; Published online 16/09/2020. Ethics: The study was approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at the California Institute of Technology and subjects provided informed consent. Data accessibility: All analysis code was written in Python and is available along with data at Authors' contributions: All authors designed the study. T.W. collected and analysed the data and drafted the manuscript. All authors critically revised the manuscript. We declare we have no competing interests. This work was supported by the US National Institute of Mental Health grant no. 2P50MH094258 and a Chen Institute Award (grant no. P2026052); Merkin Institute grant DM1.COV19R1 and Templeton Foundation grant TWCF0366 (both to D.M.). T.W. is supported by a Wellcome Trust Sir Henry Wellcome Fellowship (grant no. 206460/17/Z). T.D.Z. is supported by the National Science Foundation (grant no. 1911441).
Group:Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience, Richard N. Merkin Institute for Translational Research, COVID-19
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for NeuroscienceP2026052
Caltech Merkin Institute for Translational ResearchDM1.COV19R1
John Templeton FoundationTWCF0366
Wellcome Trust206460/17/Z
Subject Keywords:coronavirus, COVID-19, risk perception, protective behaviour, pandemic
Issue or Number:9
PubMed Central ID:PMC7540790
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20200918-083207183
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Wise T, Zbozinek TD, Michelini G, Hagan CC, Mobbs D. 2020 Changes in risk perception and self-reported protective behaviour during the first week of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. R. Soc. Open Sci. 7: 200742.
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:105444
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:18 Sep 2020 15:47
Last Modified:16 Nov 2021 18:43

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