Prospective Predictors of Novel Coronavirus Risk Mitigation Behaviors

Dr. James McCubbin, Sophie Finnell, Anna Kadau, Kennedy Proctor, Samantha Rieche and Savannah Burke

Introduction

Elevated resting blood pressure (BP) is associated with central nervous system (CNS) dampening of emotional responsivity, and may include reduced health threat appraisal and increased engagement in health-damaging risky behaviors. Our creative inquiry team’s laboratory studies in normal young adults found that BP levels and emotional responsivity are associated with risk-taking behavior in a college health risk behavior survey (McCubbin, et al. 2018), risky simulated driving (McCubbin et al., 2020), and may predict other risk-taking behavior.

Materials and Methods

An email-based assessment of perceived threat and personal risk-taking behaviors for novel coronavirus exposure was sent to 186 former laboratory participants studied originally from 2016-2020.  Our Coronavirus Risk Scale assessed perceptions of COVID-19 threat, and personal engagement in community social distancing, handwashing, and mask-wearing behavior to reduce virus exposure in June and July, 2020.

Results

Preliminary results with a 37% response rate (mean age=22.6 years) suggest that elevated laboratory resting systolic BP prospectively predicted reduced perceptions of COVID-19 threat (p=.040), and a trend for reduced perceptions risk mitigation behavior efficacy (p=.077) and increased risk-taking behavior during the height of the pandemic (p=.105).

Discussion

These results suggest that the intimate relationship between CNS control of autonomic function and emotional responsivity may allow BP to prospectively predict threat appraisal.  Increased understanding of CNS control of visceral and emotional responding may help us understand risk perception during the current COVID-19 pandemic, and provide clues to the precise mechanisms affecting motivation to engage in or avoid risky health-damaging behaviors affecting personal and public health.

References

McCubbin, J.A., Switzer, F.S., LaDue, M.N., Ogle, J.H., Bendigeri, V. (2020) Blood pressure-associated emotional dampening and risky behavior: Elevated resting blood pressure predicts risky simulated driving in women, International Journal of Psychophysiology, 155, 72-77.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2020.05.011

McCubbin, J.A., Nathan, A., Hibdon, M.A., Castillo, A.M., Graham, J.G., Switzer, F.S. III.  (2018) Blood Pressure, Emotional Dampening, and Risk Behavior: Implications for Hypertension Development.  Psychosomatic Medicine, 80(6), 544-550, doi: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000598.