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Researchers Receive Funding to Study COVID-19, Pandemic Preventative Health Behavior


Researchers at the University of Connecticut received funding for a yearlong study on how behavior and social attitudes change when a pandemic threat looms.

Americans have started to settle into a new way of life since the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak reached the US including staying home and keeping a 6-foot distance from others when in public.

But what factors motivate some people to follow these recommendations down to the letter while some ignore them altogether? And, most importantly, what can we learn from the COVID-19 pandemic that can help promote preventative health behaviors in the future.

Researchers at the University of Connecticut recently received a RAPID grant from the National Science Foundation to launch a study that could provide answers.

“We saw this as an opportunity to really think about whether we can identify individual factors – personality factors – that would predict engagement in preventative health behaviors,” said principal investigator Natalie J. Shook, PhD, Associate Professor, UConn School of Nursing, in a university press release. “From there, for future pandemics or future viral threats, are there different strategies or interventions that we could develop to facilitate a stronger response and, hopefully, prevent spread of infectious diseases faster?”

Working remotely, like millions of other Americans, Shook has recruited approximately 1000 participants that will be asked to answer a 15-minute online survey several times in the next 12 months.

The questionnaires are designed to assess preventative behaviors (eg, handwashing); social attitudes, including prejudices, worldview, and social beliefs; individual difference variables such as knowledge and concern about COVID-19; and mood and health.

Participants will also be required to submit their postal code for researchers to overlay regional COVID-19 rates as well as potential pathogen threats with the survey results.

“Right now, given how rapid the coronavirus situation is changing, and how quickly numbers are increasing with infections and confirmed cases – and the ease of disseminating information through social media – people are changing their attitudes and behaviors, so the opportunity is here to really identify the characteristics associated with engaging in these preventative behaviors,” said Shook in the press release.

Shook has already received the first round of survey responses and started to analyze the data in order to share it with health care professionals, policymakers, and other researchers as soon as possible. Her goal is to help understand the preventative health response as the COVID-19 threat continues.

“Even from just this first wave of data, I think it’ll be informative as far as just thinking about the individual characteristics that are associated with preventative health behaviors,” said Shook. “I think that we can start that process now.”

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