Americans disagree on how risky the coronavirus is, but most are changing their behavior anyway


As the coronavirus started to unfold within the United States, folks confronted an unknown threat and evolving well being suggestions. Policy measures to curb the coronavirus epidemic have turned the world the other way up, and the true influence of this world pandemic is but to be seen.

Researchers are nonetheless studying extra in regards to the virus on daily basis, however how do members of most people understand the dangers related to COVID-19? Do these beliefs have an effect on what folks have been doing to guard themselves? As social scientists, we’re interested in understanding how folks’s beliefs and behaviors advanced within the face of this novel risk.

We launched a survey by way of the University of Southern California’s Understanding America Study to search out out. Running from March 10 through March 16, the survey coated a time frame when the data accessible to the general public and the scenario on the bottom had been each quickly altering. We had been capable of see how folks’s perceptions of risk and their actions were changing from day to day.

As this disaster continues, you will need to perceive what folks take into consideration the dangers and the way they’re behaving. If, for instance, persons are seeing low dangers and never implementing beneficial actions, then public well being communications may have to deal with that.

Do folks within the US suppose they’ll get COVID-19?

Theories of well being habits counsel that individuals who suppose {that a} threat is increased are more likely to implement protective behaviors.

Because SARS-CoV-2 is a brand new virus, the dangers are nonetheless not fully understood by experts, a lot much less most people. Perhaps because of this, most of our survey respondents initially believed that their likelihood of getting the coronavirus was comparatively low.

But over the course of our weeklong survey, reported coronavirus instances within the U.S. rose from 937 to 4,226. Additionally, midway by way of our survey, the federal government imposed a number of travel bans, barring most vacationers from Europe.

As folks within the U.S. realized of those occasions, their perceived risk of getting the coronavirus increased. To measure this, we requested folks what they thought their probabilities had been for getting the coronavirus over the following three months.

The median perception on March 10, at the start of our survey, was 10% – that means half of these surveyed thought their probabilities had been lower than 10% and half thought their probabilities had been higher.

When we closed out the survey on March 16, the median prediction had gone as much as 15%. The enhance suggests that individuals had been updating their beliefs because the virus began to unfold throughout the United States daily. They had been maybe beginning to understand that they could be extra weak than they’d initially thought.

When we dug deeper into our survey knowledge, we discovered that not everybody was satisfied that they’d be getting contaminated with the coronavirus. The distribution was skewed to the left, with its peak on the low finish of the dimensions. Across all of our respondents, practically 1 / 4 thought they’d a zero or near-zero likelihood of getting coronavirus within the subsequent three months. Yet, a not-insignificant variety of folks thought they’d a really excessive likelihood of getting it. Perhaps that explains why some people were still out partying over the weekend of March 14-15 whereas others stayed home and committed to social distancing.

Time will inform which of those threat perceptions is appropriate. However, it might be overly constructive to suppose that the possibilities can be zero. Psychologists have advised that individuals generally tend to underestimate their private dangers of experiencing adverse occasions to assist address an unsure and scary world. This concept that “it can’t happen to me” is called unrealistic optimism and will clarify the big quantity of people that suppose they face nearly no threat getting the coronavirus.

This group apprehensive us. Because risk perceptions tend to inform behaviors, individuals who see low dangers of getting sick might not really feel the necessity to observe beneficial well being behaviors like hand-washing and social distancing. Unexpectedly, this isn’t what we discovered.

What are folks doing?

In our survey, we requested folks whether or not they had engaged in behaviors to maintain protected from the coronavirus, like hand-washing, canceling journey or social distancing. And to our shock, most individuals mentioned that they’d already began doing these items – even when they noticed comparatively low probabilities of getting sick. By the tip of the week, on March 16, practically 89% of respondents mentioned they had been training social distancing, 32% increased than on the primary day of the survey.

So why this seeming contradiction between perception and habits? We suppose one motive may very well be that individuals felt safer on account of implementing these actions. Doing one thing might have given them a sense of management and a way of safety.

Another motive for stepping up protecting actions may very well be that individuals needed to answer the messages to “flatten the curve” and to guard others – particularly those that are older or have underlying well being situations.

Even in common flu seasons, some folks could also be motivated to take protective actions to help others. Such altruistic motives might make folks be ok with themselves, whereas additionally supporting the optimistic view that they themselves weren’t in danger. Engaging in these actions along with others in the neighborhood can also have additional contributed to this constructive outlook.

Our survey captured an attention-grabbing time of speedy change through the early days of this pandemic. It confirmed that there’s massive variation in how doubtless folks suppose they’re to get the coronavirus. But we additionally discovered that the overwhelming majority of persons are stepping up their protecting actions – even amongst those who didn’t anticipate to get sick themselves. These findings counsel that individuals appear to be responding to calls to vary their habits, regardless of how weak – or invulnerable – they suppose they’re.

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