10 February 2021

QR Report 2021: Dynamic Risk Perception and Behavior in Response to COVID-19

The frequencies and magnitudes of hazards and associated risks in modern society can be exacerbated by globalization and environmental change at local, regional, and global levels. Risk perception and related behavior constitute a fundamental theme in risk analysis. Despite the inherent dynamic nature of risk events, the temporal dimension of risk perception and behavior has been understudied in the current risk science literature. Longitudinal research design is largely lacking in this field as previous studies mostly used cross-sectional data. Infectious disease outbreaks provide a key setting for analyzing changing perception of and response to natural or human-induced hazards. In this study, we examine dynamic risk perception and behavior in response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in four major U.S. cities (Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City). The main objectives of this research are: (1) to assess temporal changes in major dimensions of perceived COVID-19 risk and behavioral response; (2) to explore the dynamic relationship between risk perception and behavior in response to COVID-19; and (3) to analyze key factors influencing temporal changes in COVID-19 risk perception. We collected timely data on residents’ perceptions and actions related to the COVID-19 outbreak through a series of three online surveys. The analysis of panel survey data revealed significant temporal changes in different dimensions of COVID-19 risk perceptions (perceived likelihood of infection, perceived harmfulness if infected, and level of anxiety) and preventive actions. Cross-lagged path models exhibited positive correlations between risk perceptions and preventive actions in each study phase, and varied across-time relationships between individual dimensions of risk perception and actions. Further regression analysis also showed that level of preventive actions had a negative effect on subsequent changes in all three risk perception indicators. These findings can inform further development of conceptual approaches to the interactions between risk perception and behavioral responses, and have important implications for both health risk management and future research directions.

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