COVID-19: the relationship between perceptions of risk and behaviours during lockdown

Richard Brown*, Lynne Coventry, Gillian Pepper

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Understanding COVID-19 risk perceptions and their impact on behaviour can improve the effectiveness of public health strategies. Prior evidence suggests that, when people perceive uncontrollable risks to their health, they are less likely to engage in healthful behaviour. This article aims to understand the extent to which COVID-19 is perceived as an uncontrollable risk, and to assess whether this perceived risk is associated with health behaviour.

Subject and methods
We surveyed a nationally representative sample of 496 participants during the first UK lockdown. We assessed perceptions of COVID-19-related risk, self-reported adherence to infection control measures recommended by the UK Government, and general health behaviours. We predicted that increased perceived extrinsic mortality risk (the portion of mortality risk perceived to be uncontrollable) would disincentivise healthy behaviour.

Perceived threat to life was the most consistent predictor of reported adherence to infection control measures. Perceived extrinsic mortality risk was found to have increased due to the pandemic, and was associated with lower reported adherence to Government advice on diet, physical activity, and smoking.

Our findings suggest that health messages that highlight threat to life may be effective in increasing adherence to infection control, but may also lead to a reduction in health-promoting behaviours. We suggest that messages that highlight threat to life should be accompanied by statements of efficacy. Further, messages evoking feelings of concern for others may be effective in promoting compliance with anti-infection measures, without the potential for the unwelcome side-effect of discouraging healthy behaviour.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)623–633
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Public Health
Issue number4
Early online date13 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2023


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