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People likely to violate Covid-19 protocols due to ‘comparative optimism’: Study

Prashasti Awasthi | | Updated on: Oct 14, 2020
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‘Comparative optimism’ is a major hurdle in ensuring personal safety measures during the pandemic

According to a new study, until the world gets an effective cure to the novel coronavirus, the ongoing battle against the virus relies on how well people adhere to behavioural advice. This includes local restrictions, social distancing protocols, personal hygiene among others.

However, the authors of the study believe that overcoming the relationship between risk perceptions and comparative optimism during the pandemic is a major hurdle for engaging the public in behavioural advice.

The study was published in the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Health Expectations.

The methodology

The study was carried out by the researchers at Health Psychologists and Sociologists from King's College, London.

For the study, the researchers collected data from 645 UK adults during weeks 5-8 of the UK Covid-19 lockdown. The sample was normally distributed in terms of age and reflected the UK ethnic and disability profile.

They investigated comparative optimism for infection and recovery from Covid-19, and the implications this may have had on following lockdown advice.

The study found that during the first lockdown period, most respondents believed that compared to others, they were unlikely to be at risk of Covid-19.

Dr Koula Asimakopoulou, Reader in Health Psychology at King’s College London explained: “Comparative optimism is a well-established concept in health risk research, where people believe negative events are more likely to happen to others than themselves.”

The findings

Researchers believe that this comparative optimism may have made people a little careless and this has also led to a lack of compliance with lockdown guidelines in the UK.

Despite the public agreement for safety measures, 25 per cent of the inhabitants of some areas admitted breaking lockdown rules. It is thought that people who perceive Covid-19 is less likely to happen to them than others may also believe strict adherence to lockdown restrictions is unnecessary in their case.

In contrast, participants showed comparative pessimism about Covid-19 infections for the more distant future.

The participants believed that compared to others, they were quite likely to contract the virus in the next year and develop Covid-19 related symptoms, as staying at home would be less possible, plausible, or practical.

The authors wrote in their study: “The implication for potentially walking into a second lockdown is that where people’s experience so far maybe that they have not been ill with Covid, they are likely to be even more comparatively optimistic than they were in March. Thinking that Covid has not happened to you so far so it is unlikely to happen to you now, can be even more dangerous than it was earlier in the spring.”

Published on October 14, 2020

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