Study: Feelings Toward COVID-19 May Not Reflect Perception of Risk Among Younger Population

The study used affective priming, which is an indirect behavioral measure of implicit attitude, to evaluate feelings toward COVID-19.

Researchers at York University have found that individuals in their late 20s have a different perception about words associated with COVID-19, according to a press release.1

Additionally, this age group was found to perceive a significantly lower overall risk of contracting COVID-19 compared to their perception of necessary precautions and overall adherence to public health measures, but these explicit ratings are not aligned with their unconscious feelings.1

The study used affective priming, which is an indirect behavioral measure of implicit attitude, to evaluate feelings toward COVID-19. Participants explicitly rated their overall risk perception associated with contracting COVID-19 significantly lower versus their perception of necessary precautions and overall adherence to public health measures.2

In the baseline trials, participants explicitly rated COVID-19 affiliated words as unpleasant, but affective priming was not observed for congruent prime-target COVID-19 affiliated word pairs when compared to congruent prime-target pleasant and unpleasant words.2

The results showed that words associated with COVID-19 do not produce the same attitude response as traditional pleasant and unpleasant word stimuli despite conscious explicit rating of the COVID-19 words as unpleasant, according to the study. Additionally, these data may contribute toward the decreased fear-related behaviors and increased incidences of risky-behavior facilitating the movement of the virus, according to the study authors.2

“When the two words have conflicting emotion, it slows down how quickly you respond to the second word. We showed words like ‘pandemic,’ ‘quarantine,’ ‘vaccine,’ and individuals explicitly rated these words as unpleasant, however when we presented two of these words in a row, they didn’t show the faster response that we find to other unpleasant word pairs, so it suggests that their emotions toward these COVID-19 words are not consistent with what they’re consciously telling us,” said senior author Jennifer Steeves in a press release. “Our findings are actually interesting in terms of compliance around measures that we need to do to mitigate the pandemic, suggesting that individuals have somewhat conflicting emotions towards COVID-19.”1

The researchers said the results of the study also contribute to the growing body of research on why some individuals across communities might be more or less willing to engage in precautionary behaviors outlined by public health agencies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.1

REFERENCES

1. Study: How some young people feel toward COVID-19 may not reflect their perception of risk. EurekAlert! November 9, 2021. Accessed November 10, 2021. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/934286

2. Moro, S.S., Steeves, J.K.E. Lack of affective priming indicates attitude-behaviour discrepancy for COVID-19 affiliated words. Sci Rep 11, 21912 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-01210-9