How do Americans behave facing coronavirus?
March 5th, 2020: While the coronavirus epidemic is at its beginnings in Italy, three researchers from the Behavioral & Cognitive Sciences department discussed the pandemic during their weekly meeting. "No European country has yet taken containment measures. But we all had the strong feeling that what was coming was serious. We were discussing adding questions around COVID-19 to one study that we had planned. Quickly, this turned into a dedicated study on the COVID-19 on its own ", recalls Samuel Greiff.
High speed research
Time is running short. Samuel Greiff, Christoph Niepel and E'Louise Botes decide to conduct a study on the psychological and behavioral effects of the coronavirus on a sample of the American population. "We had followed some research done in China on the subject and we thought it would be interesting to extend it to the United States, which is one of the biggest economies around the world". Very quickly, former colleagues and specialists from the United States joined the team to give birth a few days later to a 400 questions survey. "Through this questionnaire, we measure different corona-related variables, from the knowledge of the virus to the attitudes towards corona as a global crisis through fake news, anxiety, perceived risk, and much more", explains Greiff.
Two days later, almost 1.200 people completed the survey. "It's the fastest I've ever worked in my career so far. Collecting data for research usually takes a long time. From researchers to the ethical survey panel, we all understood that time was essential in the current situation and that we all had to act quickly ”. It is now time to sort and analyze the data collected. “We are focusing on several research questions. For example, we are trying to see whether groups that differ objectively in their risk of having a serious or even fatal course of COVID-19 – like the elderly or people with pre-existing conditions – also differ in their behavior and their risk perception? Are there different types of people such as "panic", "ignorant" or "rational"? Do these groups differ in their behavior? How does religion, political orientation, or attitude towards science influence how the pandemic is perceived and how people react to it? ", specifies the researcher.
Media, Policy and Coronavirus
The media and their significant influence in times of crisis have not been left out. « We also look at the influence of media use on the way people deal with the pandemic. If I watch a lot of Fox News, if I believe in fake news such as the one that claims that the 5G network is responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak or that eating bat soup helps spread it (really!), do I tend to ignore the social distancing recommendations? ”, asks Greiff.
Beyond the interest for research in Psychology, the first results may also be of interest for policy makers. «Understanding the psychological sides of such a crisis is also interesting for public health messaging. It can further our understanding why people respect or not the measures taken”, underlines Samuel Greiff.
Before they can publish their first results, the researcher will have to be peer-reviewed. He adds : “We hope to send the first findings into the peer-review process by the end of next week”.
As researchers from the University of Luxembourg are progressing rapidly in their research, the coronavirus also continues to spread. "We collected the data 10 days ago. Since then, the numbers of infected people skyrocketed in the United-States. That’s why we are thinking of launching a second round of data collection. It would be interesting to look at the evolution”. Samuel Greiff and his team are not leaving out Luxembourg. He concludes "There is a joint effort from all the Faculty members to look at the impacts of the COVID-19 in Luxembourg. We are thinking to extend our study to Luxembourg to take part in this initiative ”
Us adult residents severely underestimated their fatality risk if infected with the SARS-CoV-2 in March 2020. This is one of the main findings from the first paper published by Christoph Niepel, Valentin Emslander and Samuel Greiff from the University of Luxembourg.
On 11 March 2020, the SARS-Cov-2 is declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). A month later, the United states became the country with the highest number of officially confirms cases of COVID-19 worldwide. The researchers from the University of Luxembourg aimed to provide a time-critical insights on the covid-19 fatality risk perception of the US population by analyzing these two time points : mid-March and Mid-April.
First, the study looked at the absolute and relative risks perception in March 2020 in the general population as well as for two subgroups defined by pre-existing medical conditions and age. 51% US adults reported that their own odds of dying if infected were approximately one in ten thousand or even lower, thereby severely underestimating fatality risk. Although people from the subgroups understood that their own risk of dying if infected is higher, they still underestimate they fatality risk. The results also show that the risk perception has evolved between March and April 2020, perceiving a higher risk in April. Nevertheless, the fatality risk of the coronavirus remained underestimated.
These findings are worrying because risk perception, as the study also suggests, guides behaviour that can reduce the spread of the virus and save lives. The research highlights the importance of ensuring that policy interventions, regulations, and guidelines as well as communication strategies target the population in general and some demographic groups in particular, to ensure an alignment between the risk they face and the risk they perceive. Individuals that have an accurate perception of the threat posed by covid-19 are more likely to implement the drastic behavioural changes required.
Risk perceptions will continue to play an important role in the long run. In the absence of vaccines or treatments, the current social distancing and health-protective behaviour are likely to remain necessary for many months.
Read the full paper : "The coronavirus (COVID-19) fatality risk perception of US adult residents in March and April 2020" by Niepel, Kranz, Borgonovi, Emslander and Greiff.