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In March 2020, at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued guidelines on the best ways of preventing COVID-19, with handwashing being the key preventive behavior. Hundreds of videos showing celebrities lathering up, rinsing, and drying their hands flooded the internet. These videos and the worrying global numbers of coronavirus infections and deaths made people listen and follow suit. But for how long?

 

RESEARCH PROJECT

Health behavior change during COVID-19 pandemic:


the focus on handwashing

 

Research UnitUNI SWPS warszawa wydzial psychologii
Grant AmountPLN 297,840
Funding Sourcencbir

Duration of Research Project:

 

In March 2020, at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued guidelines on the best ways of preventing COVID-19, with handwashing being the key preventive behavior. Hundreds of videos showing celebrities lathering up, rinsing, and drying their hands flooded the internet. These videos and the worrying global numbers of coronavirus infections and deaths made people listen and follow suit. But for how long? Many countries are now easing up pandemic restrictions. Will people maintain their newly formed habit of careful and frequent hand washing? Researchers from SWPS University, under the leadership of Professor Aleksandra Łuszczyńska, will work with other research centers around the world to determine the turning points in behavior change and identify modifiable psychosocial factors that are the strongest predictors of the maintenance of handwashing adherence and recovery from lapses.

Project Objectives

In March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO, 2020) and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2020) issued guidelines on the best ways to prevent COVID-19, with handwashing being the key preventive behavior. Even before these guidelines were issued, people started to change their behaviors, with 44% of the general population declaring washing hands more frequently (Abacus Data Bulletin, March, 2020).

Importantly, handwashing has a preventive potential if performed in specific situations: before eating; before, during and after preparation of food; when caring for the sick; after coughing or sneezing; after handling animals or animal waste; when hands are visibly dirty; and after toilet use (WHO 2020; CDC, 2020).

Unfortunately, research usually focuses merely on handwashing frequency, but disregards the situational contexts. It is also unclear if/how handwashing behaviors change, as COVID-19 morbidity and mortality rates fluctuate. Using handwashing as a health behavior example, this project will provide insights into the complexity of behavior change processes during the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, the following issues will be investigated:

  1. What are the levels of adherence to handwashing guidelines, across the periods varying in COVID-19 morbidity and mortality, across countries with different COVID-19 trajectories?
  2. Would anxiety, perceived risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2 virus, and beliefs about effectiveness of handwashing explain handwashing behavior changes? Do the patterns of associations between the emotions, beliefs and behaviors change, as COVID-19 morbidity and mortality rates fluctuate over time and across countries?
  3. As COVID-19 morbidity and mortality rates would decline, handwashing adherence would (most likely) decline. This project attempts to identify the turning points at which people reduce their adherence to handwashing behavior. Finally, we will test if emotions and beliefs (included in the protection motivation theory and the Health Action Process Approach model) would help to predict if/when such turning points occur, whether people relapse to old habits, or if they continue to adhere to handwashing guidelines.

Adoption and maintenance of adherence of handwashing guidelines is limited in the general population. The existing interventions to improve adherence in this group have yielded small effects, so far. A shift in approach to explaining the significance of handwashing is needed to pave the way to new, more effective interventions that can help prevent not only COVID-19 infections, but also numerous other diseases.

Professor Aleksandra Łuszczyńska, Principal Investigator

 

Methodology

Data will be collected twice among adults from general population (with a 1-month gap between the measurement points), in at least 10 countries, including Australia, Canada, China, France, Gambia, Germany, Italy, Israel, Malaysia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Switzerland, and Singapore.

At least 4,000 participants will fill in the questionnaires, delivered via an online platform. Validated measures of emotions (anxiety) and beliefs (included in protection motivation theory and the Health Action Process Approach model) will be used, together with a handwashing questionnaire, accounting for the situational adherence. Data collected from the study participants will be analyzed, accounting for the trends of COVID-19 morbidity and mortality, as reported by WHO.

Application of Results

Adoption and maintenance of adherence of handwashing guidelines is limited in the general population and the existing interventions to improve adherence in general population have yielded small effects, so far. A shift in an approach to explaining handwashing behavior is needed to pave the way to new, more effective interventions.

COVID-19 pandemic acts as a trigger, increasing handwashing adherence, but behavior change may be short-lived and a speedy return to old habits may be expected, increasing the likelihood of an infection. The proposed research is among the first to deliver findings on changes in adherence to situational guidelines on handwashing, in the context of changes by COVID-19 morbidity and mortality rates in at least ten countries. We will identify modifiable psychosocial factors that are the strongest predictors of the maintenance of handwashing adherence and recovery from lapses.

Overall, the project will result in a rich dataset accounting for data from over 4,000 adults residing, in countries such as Australia, Canada, China, France, Gambia, Germany, Italy, Israel, Malaysia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Switzerland, and Singapore. We will obtain novel and strong evidence for a complex behavior change processes, occurring during COVID-19 pandemic.

Research Team

258 aleksandra luszczynska

Professor

Aleksandra Łuszczyńska

psychologist
BIO »

258 zofia szczuka

 

Zofia Szczuka

psychologist, doctoral student at SWPS University

Project Coordination

Office for Research

Director: Piotr Matejek
tel. +48 22 517 99 21
e-mail: badania@swps.edu.pl
Monday to Friday: 9.00-16.00

Address

SWPS University
Chodakowska 19/31
03-815 Warsaw
rooms 408, 409, 410

 

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