A study published in the journal PLOS ONE has reported that people who have an aversion towards germs and bugs may be at an advantage as this psychological behavior has caused people to practice enhanced preventive measures such as disinfection of living environment and frequent hand washing during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Natalie J. Shook, the principal investigator for the study, said in a statement, "When we feel disgusted towards something, our behavioral response is to avoid it and get away from it, but people vary in their experience of disgust."

Psychological Behavior and Preventive Measures

Hand Washing
Hand Washing (Representational Picture) Pixabay

More than other factors, strong feelings of germ aversion and pathogen disgust are significantly associated with concern about COVID-19 and preventative behavior, according to researchers from the University of Connecticut in the US.

Shook and her team asked study participants about their overall concerns about COVID-19 and about how often they engaged in preventative health behaviors like physical distancing, frequent hand washing, avoiding touching their face, wearing a face mask, and cleaning and disinfecting.

"What we found in our data set was that the most consistent predictors of concern about COVID and then engagement in preventative health behaviors are actually those psychological disease avoidance factors," Shook said in a paper

Varying Reasons for Infection

More than factors like age, perceived risk, or political stance, individuals who indicated strong feelings of germ aversion and pathogen disgust also reported greater concern for COVID-19 and increased participation in preventive behaviors. The researchers also found that the people most likely to be impacted by the virus are not necessarily those most likely to be engaging in preventative behaviors.

"Older participants reported more concern about COVID, which makes sense as they're at higher risk," Shook said. Individuals with higher incomes were associated with more engagement in physical distancing and cleaning behaviors, but they would also have greater access to resources -- like cleaning supplies -- and the potential to work from home because of their socio-economic status.

Recent illness and general perceived health were also linked with many preventive health behaviors, though the individual reasons could vary, from motivations to prevent others from becoming ill to greater awareness due to a recent illness. The findings identify a variety of characteristics that may place individuals at risk for contracting and spreading disease during a pandemic, according to researchers.

(With inputs from agencies)