Study investigates how people behave in pandemics

Feb 01, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- A UCL-led study has identified key demographic and psychological factors that may predict protective behaviours during pandemics.

Dr Alison Bish and Professor Susan Michie (UCL Clinical, Educational and ) investigated the results of a number of studies into how people behave during pandemics, such as the recent swine , to better understand protective behaviour and to improve interventions and communication in the future.

The review included the results of 26 published studies on associations between demographic factors, attitudes and behavioural measures during outbreaks including SARS () between November 2002 and July 2003, (avian ) in 1997, and swine flu in 2009.

Dr Bish said: “These illnesses have far reaching effects because of how easily they are transmitted. When an outbreak occurs however, people can choose to take steps to protect themselves.

Protective behaviours can be preventative, avoidant or disease management, such as , avoiding public places, or taking antiviral medication. We wanted to discover the groups of people that are most likely to take such steps, and the attitudes that are associated with these behaviours.”

Many of the studies found significant gender differences in protective behaviours. Studies in Hong Kong and Singapore, the UK and the USA found that women were more likely than men to carry out protective behaviours such as washing their hands, wearing a mask or following quarantine restrictions. Older people were also found to be more likely to carry out such protective behaviours.

Dr Bish said: “These patterns could be explained in terms of perceived risk, with women and older people feeling that they may be more susceptible to disease than men, or younger people do.”

In fact, greater perceived susceptibility to disease was found to be a strong predictor of protective behaviours in studies carried out in the UK, Hong Kong, Australia and the Netherlands, with those people who felt they were more at risk carrying out more protective behaviours such as good hygiene, vaccination, and disinfecting the home. In studies investigating SARS and , greater perceived susceptibility was associated with avoidant behaviour such as avoiding public places.

Having a high level of trust in authorities was found to be associated with compliance with preventative, avoidant and management of illness behaviours.

Dr Bish said: “As trust is a key emotion relevant to risk behaviour, people who trust in authorities are more likely to follow their advice. The issue of trust becomes weightier in uncertain situations, making this an important factor in whether people follow government advice during pandemics.”

The results of the study were published in the British Journal of Health Psychology.

Explore further: Early caregiving experiences have long-term effects on social relationships, achievement

More information: bpsoc.publisher.ingentaconnect… p/pre-prints/bjhp807

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Unhealthy lifestyle more than doubles stroke risk

Feb 20, 2009

People who lead unhealthy lifestyles are more than twice as likely to suffer a stroke than those who eat and drink sensibly, don't smoke, and take regular exercise, finds a study published on bmj.com today.

Questions and answers on swine flu

Apr 29, 2009

As the number of swine flu cases grows, so do the questions about how the virus is transmitted and what people can do to prevent it. Here are answers from interviews with doctors and from public-health Web sites.

Half of health workers reject swine flu shot

Aug 25, 2009

(AP) -- About half of Hong Kong's health workers would refuse the swine flu vaccine, new research says, a trend that experts say would likely apply worldwide. In a study that polled 2,255 Hong Kong health workers this year, ...

Recommended for you

Despite risks, benzodiazepine use highest in older people

10 hours ago

Prescription use of benzodiazepines—a widely used class of sedative and anti-anxiety medications—increases steadily with age, despite the known risks for older people, according to a comprehensive analysis of benzodiazepine ...

Why some antidepressants may initially worsen symptoms

14 hours ago

New research helps explain a paradoxical effect of certain antidepressants—that they may actually worsen symptoms before helping patients feel better. The findings, highlighted in a paper publishing online December 17 in ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.