Personality as a predictor of emerging adults’ poor adherence and psychological distress to public health measures for controlling COVID‑19 viral spread: Empirical evidence and intervention efficacy

Stewart, Sherry H | $200,000

Nova Scotia Dalhousie University 2020 CIHR Operating Grant

In attempts to control the rapid spread of COVID-19, jurisdictions have instituted restrictive public health measures like social distancing and mask wearing. Worldwide, shocking numbers of individuals are not adhering to such public health measures [11]. And some who are adhering appropriately appear very psychologically distressed in response to these viral containment measures [4]. Emerging adults are particularly likely to engage in risky behaviors [15] and to fail to comply with public health recommendations [11]. Little is known about factors that contribute to non-adherence or distress in response to such public health measures; research from prior pandemics suggests that personality factors may be involved [4]. Knowledge about who is least likely to adhere to public health recommendations, thereby increasing societal risk, would be particularly beneficial in knowing where to target limited university student services resources. Similarly, knowledge about who is most likely to experience distress can be useful in planning who to target for distress management services. The proposed study will examine links of four established personality risk factors for substance misuse [16] to degree of adherence/distress to COVID‑19 public health containment measures; and determine whether personality-targeted motivational and skills-building interventions already established as effective for substance misuse [6] might also be effective for improving adherence/distress to public health measures. The study will take place at 5 university sites across Canada in collaboration with Student Services at each site. First, a survey will be sent out to undergrads at each site. Next, interventions will be delivered to high-risk students either in person or online, with each compared to a control group receiving access to usual student support services only. Results could have important implications for service delivery on campus to help with the public health response to COVID-19.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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