What Drives Preventive Health Behavior during a Global Pandemic? Emotion and Worry

Karin G. Coifman, David J. Disabato, Pallavi Aurora, T. H.Stanley Seah, Benjamin Mitchell, Nicolle Simonovic, Jeremy L. Foust, Pooja Gupta Sidney, Clarissa A. Thompson, Jennifer M. Taber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Background & Purpose: Primary prevention of COVID-19 has focused on encouraging compliance with specific behaviors that restrict contagion. This investigation sought to characterize engagement in these behaviors in U.S. adults early during the pandemic and to build explanatory models of the psychological processes that drive them. Methods: US adults were recruited through Qualtrics Research Panels (N = 324; 55% female; Mage = 50.91, SD = 15.98) and completed 10 days of online reports of emotion, COVID-19 perceived susceptibility and worry, and recommended behaviors (social distancing, hand washing, etc.). Factor analysis revealed behaviors loaded on two factors suggesting distinct motivational orientations: approach and avoidance. Results: Changes in approach and avoidance behaviors over the 10 days indicated large individual differences consistent with three types of participants. Discrete emotions, including fear, guilt/shame, and happiness were associated with more recommended behaviors. Fear and COVID-19 worry indirectly influenced each other to facilitate more behavioral engagement. While emotions and worry strongly predicted individual differences in behavior across the 10 days, they did not predict as well why behaviors occurred on one day versus another. Conclusions: These findings suggest how daily affective processes motivate behavior, improving the understanding of compliance and efforts to target behaviors as primary prevention of disease.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)791-804
Number of pages14
JournalAnnals of Behavioral Medicine
Issue number8
StatePublished - Jul 1 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Society of Behavioral Medicine 2021. All rights reserved.


  • COVID-19
  • Emotion
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Cognition
  • Prevention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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