The role of threat perception and cultural tightness-looseness in predicting compliance with public health recommendations during the COVID-19 pandemic : a cross-cultural study

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2022-05

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The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a need for collective action to fight an ecological threat. The perceived and actual threat of the virus were both largely dependent upon one’s geographical location, socioeconomic status, preexisting health conditions, and available information. People more frequently act according to their own beliefs or intuitions than factual knowledge of an objective threat, however. Variation in perceived threat levels is also known to influence expectations around normativity and compliance. This can be measured by the Cultural Tightness Looseness (CTL) scale. Therefore, I examined people’s perceived threat of getting infected with COVID-19, their CTL scores, and their compliance with COVID-19-related health norms. According to previous work, when perceived threat levels increase, cultures start to “tighten,” and social norms are more pronounced and strictly enforced. Therefore, I conducted a cross-sectional survey in 11 culturally and geographically diverse countries with different COVID-19 infection and vaccination rates to explore the association between individuals’ risk perception of COVID-19 and their CTL scores. To do this, I collected self-report data on different levels of threat perception (four levels: threat to self/ family/ community/ country) and CTL scores. Next, I used threat perception and CTL scores to predict self-reported norm compliance (vaccination status, vaccine willingness, and frequency of mask-wearing). I examined these associations in a mixed-effects multilevel model. I found that more distant levels of threat perception (especially to one’s community and country) were statistically significant predictors of compliance. However, when I examined the effects of threat and CTL in a mediation analysis, I found that CTL had no mediating role in the relationship between threat perception and compliance, suggesting that individuals’ threat perception and CTL scores independently influenced compliance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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