Can Self-Protective Behaviors Increase Unrealistic Optimism? Evidence from the COVID-19 Pandemic
Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, Forthcoming
39 Pages Posted: 25 Jun 2021
Date Written: May 23, 2021
People tend to believe they are more (less) likely to experience positive (negative) outcomes than similar others. While research has consistently shown that feeling unrealistically optimistic about future events influences the adoption of self-protective behaviors, much less is known about the opposite relationship. We address this gap by examining whether and how self-protective behaviors influence unrealistic optimism in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Across two preregistered, high-powered experiments (N = 4,707), we document a generalized unrealistic optimism about the health risks associated with COVID-19. Critically, we show that prompting people to think about a precautionary behavior they often perform (i.e., mask wearing) magnifies this preexisting tendency. Egocentrism, but not self-enhancement and/or better-than-average effects, helps to explain the phenomenon. Theoretical contributions and substantive implications to health risk research and policy are discussed.
Note: Funding Statement: This study was financed in part by the Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior - Brasil (CAPES) - Finance Code 001.
Declaration of Interests: The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
Ethics Approval Statement: This project was approved by the CEPH / FGV review board.
Keywords: Unrealistic Optimism, Risk Perception, Self-Protective Behaviors, COVID-19, Preregistered
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