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UNR researchers: People who feel invincible hinder COVID-19 fight


Belief in personal invulnerability discourages vaccination efforts

Submitted by University of Nevada, Reno

People who consider themselves to be invincible may be undermining efforts to control the COVID-19 pandemic, say researchers at the College of Business at the University of Nevada, Reno. Their research may prove useful to public health professionals as they shape more-effective messages to encourage people to get vaccinated and take other steps to not spread the risk of the virus.

Because they don’t believe that COVID-19 presents a serious risk to their health, the people who perceive themselves as invincible are less likely to accept the need for steps such as mask-wearing to slow the spread of the disease, and they are less likely to become vaccinated, finds the new study.

The research to be published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE was undertaken by Dr. James Leonhardt, an associate professor of marketing; Dr. Garret Ridinger, an assistant professor of management; Yu Rong, a doctoral student in management; and Dr. Amir Talaei-Khoei, an associate professor of information systems. They analyzed large-scale data collected across 51 countries by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Facebook.

Invincibility is especially likely to threaten COVID-19 vaccination uptake among people living in countries that place great value on individualism — the United States, Canada, Great Britain — the study found. Earlier research has found that feelings of invincibility also are linked to behaviors ranging from risky driving to excessive consumption of alcohol.

Leonhardt said the research confirms his observation that emotions often play a greater role than rational analysis when individuals weigh personal risks. That provides an opening for successful campaigns to encourage vaccination.

“For marketing communications, such as public health campaigns, I would encourage the use of emotional appeals over rational appeals; specifically, emotional appeals that encourage empathy for those afflicted by the disease, concern for taking action to protect others, and hope for a brighter tomorrow by doing our part to protect those more vulnerable than ourselves,” Leonhardt said.

Empathy, he said, plays a particularly key role.

“Having empathy for others — being concerned about whether others get sick or die from COVID-19 — predicts vaccination acceptance, and by encouraging empathy we may be able to lessen the unintended effects of invincibility on collective health during a pandemic,” Leonhardt said.

In a follow up study on the same dataset, Rong and Talaei-Khoei found how much trust people put into information sources plays a significant role on their decisions to get vaccinated.

Rong and Talaei-Khoei also found not only feeling invincible toward COVID-19 may cause people to not get vaccinated, but also if people perceive no risk to their community by the disease, it would negatively impact on their decision.  

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