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Of Pandemics and Zombies: The Influence of Prior Concepts on COVID-19 Pandemic-Related Behaviors

1
Department of Psychology, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA 18018, USA
2
Department of Psychology, Albright College, Bethlehem, PA 18018, USA
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Paul B. Tchounwou
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2021, 18(10), 5207; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18105207
Received: 9 April 2021 / Revised: 30 April 2021 / Accepted: 11 May 2021 / Published: 14 May 2021
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Role of Human Concepts in Environmental and Public Health)
We use a concepts and categories research perspective to explore how prior conceptual knowledge influences thinking about a novel disease, namely COVID-19. We collected measures of how similar people thought COVID-19 was to several existing concepts that may have served as other possible comparison points for the pandemic. We also collected participants’ self-reported engagement in pandemic-related behaviors. We found that thinking the COVID-19 pandemic was similar to other serious disease outbreaks predicted greater social distancing and mask-wearing, whereas likening COVID-19 to the seasonal flu predicted engaging in significantly fewer of these behaviors. Thinking of COVID-19 as similar to zombie apocalypse scenarios or moments of major societal upheaval predicted stocking-up behaviors, but not disease mitigation behaviors. These early category comparisons influenced behaviors over a six-month span of longitudinal data collection. Our findings suggest that early conceptual comparisons track with emergent disease categories over time and influence the behaviors people engage in related to the disease. Our research illustrates how early concept formation influences behaviors over time, and suggests ways for public health experts to communicate with the public about emergent diseases. View Full-Text
Keywords: concepts; COVID-19; emergent disease; health decision-making; health behaviors concepts; COVID-19; emergent disease; health decision-making; health behaviors
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MDPI and ACS Style

Marsh, J.K.; Ungson, N.D.; Packer, D.J. Of Pandemics and Zombies: The Influence of Prior Concepts on COVID-19 Pandemic-Related Behaviors. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2021, 18, 5207. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18105207

AMA Style

Marsh JK, Ungson ND, Packer DJ. Of Pandemics and Zombies: The Influence of Prior Concepts on COVID-19 Pandemic-Related Behaviors. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2021; 18(10):5207. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18105207

Chicago/Turabian Style

Marsh, Jessecae K., Nick D. Ungson, and Dominic J. Packer 2021. "Of Pandemics and Zombies: The Influence of Prior Concepts on COVID-19 Pandemic-Related Behaviors" International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 18, no. 10: 5207. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18105207

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