If you are among those who get creeped out by bugs and grossed out by germs, it was a blessing in disguise as such psychological behaviour has led people engage in more preventative measures like frequent handwashing and disinfecting the living environment during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
More than other factors, strong feelings of germ aversion and pathogen disgust are significantly associated with concern about Covid-19 and preventative behaviour, according to researchers from the University of Connecticut in the US.
"When we feel disgust towards something, our behavioural response is to avoid it and get away from it, but people vary in their experience of disgust," said Natalie J. Shook, principal investigator for the study.
Shook and her team asked study participants about their overall concerns about Covid-19 and about how often they engaged in preventative health behaviours like physical distancing, frequent hand washing, avoiding touching their face, wearing a face mask, and cleaning and disinfecting.
"What we found in our data set was that the most consistent predictors of concern about Covid and then engagement in preventative health behaviours are actually those psychological disease avoidance factors," Shook said in a paper published in the journal PLOS ONE.
More than factors like age, perceived risk, or political stance, individuals who indicated strong feelings of germ aversion and pathogen disgust also reported greater concern for Covid-19 and increased participation in preventive behaviours.
The researchers also found that the people most likely to be impacted by the virus are not necessarily those most likely to be engaging in preventative behaviours.
"Older participants reported more concern about Covid, which makes sense as they're at higher risk," Shook said. Individuals with higher incomes were associated with more engagement in physical distancing and cleaning behaviours, but they would also have greater access to resources -- like cleaning supplies -- and the potential to work from home because of their socio-economic status.
Recent illness and general perceived health were also linked with many preventive health behaviours, though the individual reasons could vary, from motivations to prevent others from becoming ill to greater awareness due to a recent illness.
The findings identify a variety of characteristics that may place individuals at risk for contracting and spreading disease during a pandemic, according to researchers.