Psychological distance towards COVID-19: Geographical and hypothetical distance predict attitudes and mediate knowledge

authored by
Simon Blauza, Benedikt Heuckmann, Kerstin Hildegard Kremer, Alexander Georg Büssing

While different antecedents have been examined to explain peoples' reactions towards COVID-19, there is only scarce understanding about the role of the subjective closeness and distance to the pandemic. Within the current study, we applied the concept of psychological distance to understand the distance towards COVID-19 and investigated its (1) connection with preventive attitudes and proactive behaviors, (2) context-specific antecedents, and its (3) mediating effect of knowledge on attitudes. Using an online sample from a German quantitative cross-sectional study (N = 395, M = 32.2 years, SD = 13.9 years, 64.3% female) in July 2020, a time with a general low incidence of people infected with Sars-CoV2, we measured relevant socio-psychological constructs addressing COVID-19 and included further information from external sources. Based on a path model, we found geographical distance as a significant predictor of cognitive attitudes towards COVID-19. Furthermore, hypothetical distance (i.e., feeling to be likely affected by COVID-19) predicted not only participants' affective, cognitive, and behavioral attitudes, but also the installation of a corona warning-app. While several variables affected the different dimensions of psychological distance, hypothetical and geographical distance mediated the effect of knowledge on attitudes. These results underline the role of geographical and hypothetical distance for health-related behaviors and education. For example, people will only comply with preventive measures if they feel geographically concerned by the disease, which is particularly challenging for fast-spreading global diseases such as COVID-19. Therefore, there is a need to clearly communicate the personal risks of diseases and address peoples' hypothetical distance.

Biology Education Section
Current Psychology
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E-pub ahead of print
Peer reviewed
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