Risk Analysis

Residential Location and Psychological Distance in Americans’ Risk Views and Behavioral Intentions Regarding Zika Virus

Journal Article


Two 2017 experiments with a U.S. national opportunity sample tested effects of location, psychological distance (PD), and exposure to location‐related information on Americans’ Zika risk views and behavioral intentions. Location—distance from mosquito transmission of the virus in Florida and Texas; residence within states with 100+ Zika infections; residence within potential mosquito vector ranges—had small, inconsistent effects. Hazard proximity weakly enhanced personal risk judgments and concern about Zika transmission locally. It also increased psychological proximity, and intentions of mosquito control, avoiding travel to Zika‐infected areas, and practicing safe sex. PD—particularly social and geographical distance, followed by temporal distance, with few effects for uncertainty—modestly and inconsistently decreased risk views and intentions. Exposure to location‐related information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website—naming states with 100+ Zika cases; maps of potential mosquito vector habitat—increased risk views and psychological closeness, but not intentions; maps had slightly stronger if inconsistent effects versus prevalence information. Structural equation modeling (SEM) of a location > PD > risk views > intention path explained modest variance in intentions. This varied in degree and kind (e.g., which location measures were significant) across behaviors, and between pre‐ and postinformation exposure analyses. These results suggest need for both theoretical and measurement advances regarding effects of location and PD on risk views and behavior. PD mediates location effects on risk views. Online background information, like that used here, will not enhance protective behavior without explicitly focused communication and perhaps higher objective risk.

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