Study looks at COVID-19 health perceptions in different age groups

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Young and older persons with masks on park bench, looking at each other

A new study will explore how people of different ages perceive the risk of getting COVID-19.

The study, conducted by the Brain and Body Lab at the University of Waterloo, is asking people of different age groups how vulnerable they believe they are to COVID-19. It will look at what behaviours people are acting on to mitigate the risk of getting the virus – like wearing a mask or not – and how they perceive other age groups to be behaving.

“There are perceptions in social media that the uptake of behaviours to contain COVID-19, such as physical distancing, vary across age groups – but whether this is true is less clear,” said Laura Middleton, Kinesiology Professor and lead researcher on the study. “This survey will explore how our perceptions of risk and susceptibility, as well as the adoption of preventative behaviours, varies by age group.”

Lauren Bechard, a PhD candidate in Kinesiology and student lead on the project, said, “The study was inspired by early responses about the COVID-19 pandemic on social media that highlighted generational differences, specifically the hashtag #BoomerRemover on Twitter, and videos of young adults not adhering to calls for social distancing during spring break.”

Bechard said that findings from this study will be valuable in creating effective public health messaging and strategies tailored to the values and beliefs of different age groups. 

“Early reports on COVID-19 might have given people in younger age groups the impression that COVID-19 isn't something that poses a huge threat to their personal health and well-being,” Bechard said.

“However, they are still affected either directly or indirectly in many ways, including impact on their family and friends and the economy. It's in everyone's best interest now to do our part in reigning in the first wave of COVID-19 infection and reducing the size of subsequent waves down the road.”

The researchers are still collecting responses from the general public. “We've had a great response so far, but would still like to hear from as many different people as possible,” Middleton said. “The more diverse our sample is, the more robust our results will be. Anyone over the age of 18 who can understand written English is invited to participate.”