Functional Fear Predicts Public Health Compliance in the COVID-19 Pandemic

COVID-19 Milestones Series

Authors: Craig A. Harper, Liam P. Satchell, Dean Fido & Robert D. Latzman

Originally published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction (2021) 19:1875–1888: “Functional Fear Predicts Public Health.

Here I republish the first page (p. 1875) only.


In the current context of the global pandemic of coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19), health professionals are working with social scientists to inform government policy on how to slow the spread of the virus. An increasing amount of social scientific research has looked at the role of public message framing, for instance, but few studies have thus far examined the role of individual differences in emotional and personality-based variables in predicting virus-mitigating behaviors. In this study, we recruited a large international community sample (N = 324) to complete measures of self-perceived risk of contracting COVID-19, fear of the virus, moral foundations, political orientation, and behavior change in response to the pandemic. Consistently, the only predictor of positive behavior change (e.g., social distancing, improved hand hygiene) was fear of COVID-19, with no effect of politically relevant variables. We discuss these data in relation to the potentially functional nature of fear in global health crises.


Lead author: Craig A. Harper craigaharper19@davidfmarks2018

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