RAPID: A Longitudinal Study of Public Responses to the Coronavirus: University of Oregon Eugene

Ellen Peters

[email protected]

The coronavirus pandemic provides a rare opportunity to study public risk perceptions and risk-related behaviors in the midst of a World Health Organization Public Health Emergency of International Concern that could threaten the quality of life of a wide spectrum of Americans. Few emergencies within the United States have affected so many people. The situation is a rich opportunity because it is occurring in real-time and is highly dynamic, involving many players in our country and around the world. As a result, it allows the research team a chance to compare this health threat with other perceived disasters such as immigration, terrorism, and possible future public health emergencies. The public?s perceptions and risk-related behaviors seem likely to change over time in response to media coverage as well as actions from our own and foreign governments.<br/><br/>In one longitudinal study, the research team invites participants from Amazon Mechanical Turk to complete one survey each month for 5 months. The researchers query their risk perceptions and affective responses toward the coronavirus, frequency of discussions about the coronavirus with others, behavioral intentions towards hypothetical experimental vaccines and treatments, and support for possible policy solutions such as quarantine. The research also ascertains their intended travel plans and media exposure to the pandemic including how much they trust those sources. The team models the emotional, risk-perception, and behavioral responses of participants toward the coronavirus by using a latent variable growth curve model that examines the trajectories of variables over time. To establish causal links, the scholars also conduct a second related experiment that manipulates affect through narratives and examines its effects on risk perceptions, medical decisions, and policy decisions. Participants are assigned to a more negative or less negative condition, and mediation analysis is used to evaluate the manipulation?s effects. In these studies, theoretical links are made between risk perceptions, social amplification of risk, the affect heuristic and other functions of affect, and numeracy. There is a dynamic test of the three functions of affect by correlating current feelings over time with risk judgments, intended prevention and treatment behaviors, and support for policy options. Theoretical research on affect has not been tested in the setting of a world health emergency. This research results in deep mechanistic understanding of how emotions and media exposure influence vaccine and treatment choices as well as support for policies. Finally, the second study establishes causal links between affect and support for prevention, treatment, and policy strategies. The research tests the dynamic and causal power of the functions of affect and motivated reasoning in order to lay the groundwork for interventions for emotional responses to the coronavirus and future epidemics. The research also has important implications, including for communication methods, for other affect-rich decisions faced by the public and policy makers.<br/><br/>This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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