COVID-19: Risk Perception, Risk Communication, and Behavioral Intentions

Susan Joslyn, Sonia Savelli, Horacio A. Duarte, Jessica Burgeno, Chao Qin, Jee Hoon Han, Gala Gulacsik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Critical to limiting the spread of Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and future pandemics is compliance with behavioral recommendations such as mask wearing and social distancing. Compliance may depend upon understanding the seriousness of the health consequences and the likelihood they will occur. However, the statistics that speak to these issues in an ongoing pandemic are complex and may be misunderstood. An online experiment with a U.S. sample tested the impact on perceived likelihood, trust, concern, behavioral intentions, and agreement with government response of numeric (mortality/infection percentage by age group) and gist expressions (which age group was smaller [mortality] or roughly equivalent [infected]). While the differences in risk perception and willingness to engage in activities between younger and older participants were small, “gist infection and mortality” increased willingness to wear a mask among younger participants. Government restrictions (e.g., social distancing) impacted willingness to engage is riskreduction and risk-seeking activities. The biggest differences were due to political ideology. Although conservatives perceived similar levels of risk as did liberals, they were much less willing to engage in protective behaviors and support government policies. However, conservatives were affected by some risk communication formats and restrictions suggesting that future work should be aimed at this issue.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)599-620
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Applied
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work is supported by the National Science Foundation, Award no.: 2029039. We have no conflicts of interest to disclose. A special thank you to Raoni Demnitz, Autumn Spriggle, and Beau Holladay for their help with this research.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 American Psychological Association


  • Coronavirus
  • Covid-19
  • Protective behavior
  • Risk communication
  • Risk perception


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