The Relationship of Threat Perceptions and Optimistic Attitude with Protective Behavior in the COVID-19 Crisis
Mortality in the COVID-19 crisis is highest among older adults and other vulnerable groups. Based on Protection Motivation Theory and using data from the first SHARE Corona Survey, we investigate how threat perceptions and optimistic attitudes are associated with motivation to engage in protective behavior in the population 50+. Multivariate regression analyses are based on a sample of more than 30,000 individuals from 26 countries. Our results show that around 15 percent of all respondents stayed home completely during the initial phase of the COVID-19 crisis—mainly the elderly aged and those with prior health risk conditions. On average, older Europeans responded strongly to the recommended protective behavior measures (6 out of 7 measures adopted). While feeling more anxious than before Corona and fear of infection are the main motivators for protective behavior, an optimistic outlook into the future shows an equally strong association with protective behavior. Optimistic attitudes are the strongest predictor in the Czech Republic, France, Luxembourg, and Sweden—all countries with high levels of trust in their health care systems. In contrast, fear is the strongest predictor in Estonia, Latvia, Finland and Poland—all countries with below average mortality rates. We further hypothesize that the influence of threat appraisal and optimistic attitudes vary based on contextual severity of and perceived institutional protection against COVID-19 (measured as COVID-19 mortality, stringency of control measures, and trust in the health care system). We find that the influence of personal exposure varies and can be observed mainly in country groups with high COVID-19 mortality, medium stringency, and high trust in the health care system. Against the background of negative, long-term health effects of fear and the situation of a long-term crisis, the results of this study may help evaluate and revise governmental policy responses and communication strategies.