New study shed light on how citizens will react to bio-outbreak

A new study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology has highlighted how people behave during pandemics and potentially paved the way to predict protective behaviors by identifying key demographic and psychological factors, giving light on how populations might react to a bioterror event.

The study comes as a result of an investigation by Dr. Alison Bish and Professor Susan Michie, both of the University College London's Health Psychology Unit. The duo researched the results of a number of studies in human behavior during pandemics to improve interventions and communication and understand protective behavior.

The study includes result from 26 published studies on associations between demographic factors, attitudes and behavioral measures during outbreaks, including the recent swine flu outbreak and 2002 SARS outbreak.

"These illnesses have far reaching effects because of how easily they are transmitted. When an outbreak occurs however, people can choose to take steps to protect themselves," Dr. Bish told Medical News Today. "Protective behaviours can be preventative, avoidant or disease management, such as hand washing, avoiding public places, or taking antiviral medication. We wanted to discover the groups of people that are most likely to take such steps, and the attitudes that are associated with these behaviours."

A high level of trust in authorities, the study found, was associated with compliance with preventative, avoidant and management of illness behaviors.

"As trust is a key emotion relevant to risk behaviour, people who trust in authorities are more likely to follow their advice," Dr. Bish said. "The issue of trust becomes weightier in uncertain situations, making this an important factor in whether people follow government advice during pandemics."

The study revealed that women in the United States and the United Kingdom were more likely than men to carry out protective behaviors including washing their hands, wearing a mask or following quarantine restrictions. Older people, the study said, were also more prone to carry out such behaviors.

"These patterns could be explained in terms of perceived risk, with women and older people feeling that they may be more susceptible to disease than men, or younger people do," Dr. Bish said.