B3579 - Associations of COVID-19 Risk Perceptions with Mental Health Wellbeing and Risk Behaviours - 24/07/2020

B number: 
Principal applicant name: 
Maddy Dyer | School of Psychological Science, Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group, MRC IEU, University of Bristol
Dr Hannah Sallis, Miss Jasmine Khouja, Dr Sarah Dryhurst, Dr Anna Blackwell, Professor Marcus Munafo
Title of project: 
Associations of COVID-19 Risk Perceptions with Mental Health, Wellbeing, and Risk Behaviours
Proposal summary: 

Risk perceptions are subjective judgements that people make about the characteristics and severity of a risk (Darker, 2013), and they can influence emotions and behaviours (Ferrer & Klein, 2015; Paek & Hove, 2017). Accuracy is critical; underestimating or overestimating the level of threat and danger can have negative consequences. For example, underestimation of risk in a pandemic can reduce adoption of protective and preventative health behaviours (Dryhurst et al., 2020; Khosravi, 2020; Leppin & Aro, 2009). While overestimation of risk can increase hoarding behaviour, potentially leading to shortages of medications and personal protective equipment (Abrams & Greenhawt, 2020). Overestimation of risk may also lead to reluctance to return to normal activities as national lockdowns ease.

As well as influencing behaviour, risk perceptions can negatively impact mental health and wellbeing. Among young adults in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), wellbeing has reduced, and anxiety levels have almost doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to pre-pandemic levels (Kwong et al., 2020). This is an important public health issue, given that anxiety is associated with maladaptive coping strategies such as increased alcohol use (Dyer, Heron, Hickman, & Munafò, 2019). High risk perceptions may be one factor associated with this increase in anxiety and reduction in wellbeing. In this project, we will examine the bi-directional associations of COVID-19 risk perceptions with mental health, wellbeing, and risk behaviours, using genetic and self-report data. It is also important to examine the mental health and behavioural precursors of COVID-19 risk perceptions, given their influence on health behaviours.

Impact of research: 
It is important to identify modifiable predictors of poorer mental health and wellbeing, such as subjective risk perceptions, as this may inform intervention efforts. Keeping the risk of COVID-19 in perspective may help to prevent poorer mental health and wellbeing and subsequent harmful coping strategies. It is also important to identify predictors of COVID-19 risk perceptions, as this can affect health behaviours. This research may therefore have implications for public health education and risk communication.
Date proposal received: 
Thursday, 23 July, 2020
Date proposal approved: 
Friday, 24 July, 2020
Epidemiology, Behaviour - e.g. antisocial behaviour, risk behaviour, etc., Mental health, Statistical methods, Polygenic risk scores , Risk perception Mental health Wellbeing Risk behaviours (alcohol use, smoking/vaping) Epidemiology Genetic Epidemiology Psychology COVID-19