Are People Optimistically Biased about the Risk of COVID-19 Infection? Lessons from the First Wave of the Pandemic in Europe - Sorbonne Université Access content directly
Journal Articles International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health Year : 2021

Are People Optimistically Biased about the Risk of COVID-19 Infection? Lessons from the First Wave of the Pandemic in Europe

Daniela Paolotti
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Chinelo Obi
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Jim Duggan
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Abstract

Unrealistic optimism, the underestimation of one’s risk of experiencing harm, has been investigated extensively to understand better and predict behavioural responses to health threats. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, a relative dearth of research existed in this domain regarding epidemics, which is surprising considering that this optimistic bias has been associated with a lack of engagement in protective behaviours critical in fighting twenty-first-century, emergent, infectious diseases. The current study addresses this gap in the literature by investigating whether people demonstrated optimism bias during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe, how this changed over time, and whether unrealistic optimism was negatively associated with protective measures. Taking advantage of a pre-existing international participative influenza surveillance network (n = 12,378), absolute and comparative unrealistic optimism were measured at three epidemic stages (pre-, early, peak), and across four countries—France, Italy, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Despite differences in culture and health response, similar patterns were observed across all four countries. The prevalence of unrealistic optimism appears to be influenced by the particular epidemic context. Paradoxically, whereas absolute unrealistic optimism decreased over time, comparative unrealistic optimism increased, suggesting that whilst people became increasingly accurate in assessing their personal risk, they nonetheless overestimated that for others. Comparative unrealistic optimism was negatively associated with the adoption of protective behaviours, which is worrying, given that these preventive measures are critical in tackling the spread and health burden of COVID-19. It is hoped these findings will inspire further research into sociocognitive mechanisms involved in risk appraisal.
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Origin : Publication funded by an institution

Dates and versions

hal-03523629 , version 1 (12-01-2022)

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Kathleen Mccoll, Marion Debin, Cecile Souty, Caroline Guerrisi, Clement Turbelin, et al.. Are People Optimistically Biased about the Risk of COVID-19 Infection? Lessons from the First Wave of the Pandemic in Europe. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2021, 19 (1), pp.436. ⟨10.3390/ijerph19010436⟩. ⟨hal-03523629⟩
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