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Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the United Kingdom: A personality-based perspective on concerns and intention to self-isolate

Bacon, A.M. & Corr, P. J. ORCID: 0000-0002-7618-0058 (2020). Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the United Kingdom: A personality-based perspective on concerns and intention to self-isolate. British Journal of Health Psychology, doi: 10.1111/bjhp.12423


Public behaviour change is necessary to contain the spread of coronavirus (COVID‐19). Based on the reinforcement sensitivity theory (RST) framework, this study presents an examination of individual differences in some relevant psychological factors.

Cross‐sectional psychometric.

UK respondents (N = 202) completed a personality questionnaire (RST‐PQ), measures of illness attitudes, concerns about the impact of coronavirus on health services and socio‐economic infrastructures, personal safety, and likelihood of voluntary self‐isolation.

Respondents most concerned were older, had negative illness attitudes, and scored higher on reward reactivity (RR), indicating the motivation to take positive approach action despite prevailing worry/anxiety. Personal safety concerns were highest in those with negative illness attitudes and higher fight–flight–freeze system (FFFS, reflecting fear/avoidance) scores. Results suggest people are experiencing psychological conflict: between the urge to stay safe (FFFF‐related) and the desire to maintain a normal, pleasurable (RR‐related) life. Ways of ameliorating conflict may include maladaptive behaviours (panic buying), reflecting reward‐related displacement activity. Intended self‐isolation related to FFFS, but also low behavioural inhibition system (related to anxiety) scores. Older people reported themselves less likely to self‐isolate.

Interventions need to consider individual differences in psychological factors in behaviour change, and we discuss relevant literature to inform policy makers and communicators.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution‐NonCommercial‐NoDerivs License, which permits use and distribution in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non‐commercial and no modifications or adaptations are made.
Publisher Keywords: coronavirus, reinforcement sensitivity theory, self‐isolation, fear, anxiety, depression
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare
Q Science > QR Microbiology > QR355 Virology
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
Text - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike.

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