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Health protective behaviours during the COVID-19 pandemic: Risk adaptation or habituation?

Dylan Martin-Lapoirie, Kathleen McColl, Karine Gallopel-Morvan, Pierre Arwidson and Jocelyn Raude

Social Science & Medicine, 2024, vol. 342, issue C

Abstract: Many epidemiological works show that human behaviours play a fundamental role in the spread of infectious diseases. However, we still do not know much about how people modify their Health Protective Behaviours (HPB), such as hygiene or social distancing measures, over time in response to the health threat during an epidemic. In this study, we examined the role of the epidemiological context in engagement in HPB through two possible mechanisms highlighted by research into decision-making under risk: risk adaptation and risk habituation. These two different mechanisms were assumed to explain to a large extent the temporal variations in the public's responsiveness to the health threat during the COVID-19 pandemic. To test them, we used self-reported data collected through a series of 25 cross-sectional surveys conducted in France among representative samples of the adult population, from March 2020 to September 2021 (N = 50,019). Interestingly, we found that both mechanisms accounted relatively well for the temporal variation in the adoption of social distancing during the pandemic, which is remarkable given their different assumptions about the underlying social cognitive processes involved in response to a health threat. These results suggest that strengthening the incentives to encourage people to maintain health protective behaviours and to counter risk habituation effects is crucial to disease control and prevention over time.

Keywords: Risk adaptation; Risk habituation; Prevalence-elasticity; Health protective behaviours; COVID-19 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2024
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Working Paper: Health protective behaviours during the COVID-19 pandemic: Risk adaptation or habituation? (2024) Downloads
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DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2023.116531

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