- June 2022
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- When deciding whether to eat inside a restaurant or how many health protection items to purchase, individuals in the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) era tend to consider the infection risk of crowds of generalized others. With a field study and four experiments, the present study identifies associations between COVID-19 and friendship (e.g., thinking of a friend while reading COVID-19-related news, perceiving a friend as the source of infection, noting friends" presence during potential COVID-19 exposure) that decrease both infection risk perceptions and protective behaviors. The sense of safety that stems from psychological closeness of friends reduces perceived virus infection risks associated with third-party crowds. The distinction between psychological closeness and safety toward friends versus acquaintances widens with clear in-group/out-group boundaries, such that this friend-shield effect is especially pronounced among people whose group boundaries are well established. Limiting interactions to close friends and family members is a common protective measure to reduce COVID-19 transmission risk, but the study findings demonstrate that this practice also unintentionally creates other issues, in that people tend to perceive reduced health risks and engage in potentially hazardous health behaviors. By identifying this risk and encouraging more holistic responses, this research offers implications for individuals, health officials, and policymakers.
- risk perception; psychological closeness; in-group/out-group boundary clarity; social distancing; covid-19