COVID-19 distress upped vax rates, but not distancing

"Part of the solution to the problem of differential distress may be to avoid the distress altogether," says Leonard Green, by forgoing the fear campaign. Instead, a gentler approach may be warranted.

"Part of the solution to the problem of differential distress may be to avoid the distress altogether," says Leonard Green, by forgoing the fear campaign. Instead, a gentler approach may be warranted. Ivan Pantic/Getty images

People more distressed during the COVID-19 pandemic were less likely to follow distancing guidelines, but more likely to get vaccinated.

People who were more distressed—showing signs of anxiety or depression—during the COVID-19 pandemic were less likely to follow distancing guidelines, but more likely to get vaccinated, a new study shows.

Researchers refer to this as differential distress: when people act safely in one aspect while disregarding safety in another, both in response to the same psychological distress. This creates a conundrum for those trying to determine how best to communicate risks and best practices to the public.

The study of 810 people revealed that distress was less likely to affect older people either way, despite their higher risk for severe outcomes if infected with SARS-CoV-2. The findings, published in Frontiers in Psychology, suggest that fear messaging, which is intended to scare people and can increase their levels of distress, may not be the most effective way to encourage people to change behaviors.

“These findings do not point to a straightforward public health messaging campaign,” says Joel Myerson, research professor in psychological & brain sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.

“Instead, officials may have to consider more finely tailored messages for different populations in order to achieve best outcomes: more attention to CDC recommendations as well as more people getting vaccinated.”

This is the second study from Myerson and colleagues to analyze the ways people changed behaviors during the pandemic. The first study, published in November in the journal PLOS ONE, looked at social distancing and hygiene behaviors across a range of demographics.

The results suggested that distress was closely tied to the way people responded to recommendations about social distancing. People who were more distressed were less likely to observe social distancing recommendations, perhaps as a way to maintain social connections that can ease anxiety and depression.

In the latest work, researchers again asked people about their adherence to the latest CDC recommendations, including newer recommendations outlining when to wear a mask and suggesting that people avoid spending lots of time inside with others. The results showed similar correlations to the previous study among age, distress, and behavior changes.

In terms of public health and effective messaging, one of the most pressing issues to arise after publication of the first study was the introduction of vaccines—and the myriad ways people felt about them. Looking at four categories—fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated, unvaccinated but likely to get one, unvaccinated and unlikely to get one—several findings stood out:

  • People who had been fully vaccinated were more likely than those who were partially vaccinated to have close interactions with others following their shots.
  • Relative to those who said they were unlikely to get vaccinated, those who said they were likely to do so thought their chance of infection was higher.
  • Depending on the person’s age, they responded differently to the same level of stress. Overall, for example, the higher level of distress someone had, the less likely they were to social distance, but the more likely they were to get vaccinated. Both of these correlations became weaker, however, as people aged.

Fear messaging that tries to scare people into following guidelines tends to be useful only for a one-time event, says Leonard Green, professor of psychological and brain sciences and of economics. “Ostensibly, getting vaccinated should count as such an event.”

But as breakthrough cases increase and boosters add up, vaccinations are no longer one and done; they are instead a series of events, spread out over more than a year.

Although fear-based messaging may encourage younger people to get vaccinated, it also diminishes their resolve to stick to mitigation behaviors like social distancing. Without doing both, the risk of breakthrough infections could continue to rise.

And, the research shows, messaging becomes less effective as people age—and become more susceptible to severe illness if they’re infected.

“Part of the solution to the problem of differential distress may be to avoid the distress altogether,” Green says, by forgoing the fear campaign. Instead, a gentler approach may be warranted. “Our previous work suggests that what really motivates many people to change behaviors for the better is considering how their actions can benefit, or harm, other people.”

The National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health funded the work.

Source: Washington University in St. Louis

This article was published first on GovExec, a FederalSoup partner site. 

NEXT STORY: Labor Day: Employee orgs celebrate record popularity

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.