The impact of individual differences variables on COVID-19 risk perception

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2022-05

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The present study examines a) the relationships of specific types of personal experience with COVID-19 and risk perception and b) the role of political orientation and age in mediating COVID-19 experiences and risk perception across ages in 11 countries in July 2021 (Brazil, China, Germany, India, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States). These countries were chosen for their geographic and cultural diversity and were representative of different stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine accessibility. Across all countries, knowing a family member was the most common type of experience, followed by knowing a family member with severe effects from COVID-19, knowing someone who died from COVID-19, and testing positive for COVID-19, respectively. The strongest predictors of risk perception included knowing a family member with COVID-19 or a family member with severe effects from COVID-19. My data also show patterns of the misalignment between scientific risk and perceived risk between older and younger age groups, where participants 18-29 reported low levels of perceived risk for susceptibility and severity of COVID-19, while individuals 65 or older reported low levels of susceptibility and high levels of perceived severity. I found that political orientation mediated the relationship between personal experiences and perceived risk after controlling for age and gender. In each country, liberal participants reported higher risk perceptions than conservative participants. Understanding these age and political orientation differences can improve the effectiveness of apolitical public health initiatives and shed light on the need to reevaluate risk perception assessments.

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