Virginia Tech Study Finds Gender Differences in Fears About the COVID-19 Pandemic

A new study by researchers at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University finds that women express more fear than men over the health aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the fact that men are more likely to die from complications of the virus.

Researchers at Virginia Tech administered an online survey to a sample of participants in the United States that measures fear of COVID-19, perceptions about health and financial risks, and the preventative measures taken by survey participants. They found that despite the empirical fact that men are more likely to experience adverse health consequences from COVID-19, women report greater fear and more negative expectations about health-related consequences of COVID-19 than men.

The results also found that women are more optimistic than men regarding the financial consequences of the pandemic. Women also report more negative emotional experiences generally during the pandemic, particularly in situations where other people or the government take actions that make matters worse. The survey also found that women report taking more preventative measures such as wearing masks, frequently washing hands, and practicing social distancing than men in response to the pandemic.

The authors conclude by stating that “our study suggests avenues for future study for researchers interested in effective crisis management. To mitigate the severity of a crisis, for example, policymakers sometimes employ fear messaging, or scare tactics, to promote adherence to prevention measures. Our results suggest that this approach may have differential impact depending on gender, since women report higher fear. Furthermore, scare tactics may also have unintended consequences, such as increasing message avoidance or exacerbating existing stressors. Messaging strategies that emphasize the pro-social implications of preventative measures, that focus on evidence-based health communications, or that “nudge” behavior in a contextually appropriate manner without increasing psychological distress may be preferred during health crises.”

The full study, “Gender Differences in Fear and Risk Perception During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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