Demographic and attitudinal determinants of protective behaviours during a pandemic: a review

Br J Health Psychol. 2010 Nov;15(Pt 4):797-824. doi: 10.1348/135910710X485826. Epub 2010 Jan 28.


Purpose: A new strain of H1N1 influenza, also known as swine flu was confirmed in the UK in May 2009 and has spread to over 100 countries around the world causing the World Health Organization to declare a global flu pandemic. The primary objectives of this review are to identify the key demographic and attitudinal determinants of three types of protective behaviour during a pandemic: preventive, avoidant, and management of illness behaviours, in order to describe conceptual frameworks in which to better understand these behaviours and to inform future communications and interventions in the current outbreak of swine flu and subsequent influenza pandemics.

Methods: Web of Science and PubMed databases were searched for references to papers on severe acute respiratory syndrome, avian influenza/flu, H5N1, swine influenza/flu, H1N1, and pandemics. Forward searching of the identified references was also carried out. In addition, references were gleaned from an expert panel of the Behaviour and Communications sub-group of the UK Scientific Pandemic Influenza Advisory Group. Papers were included if they reported associations between demographic factors, attitudes, and a behavioural measure (reported, intended, or actual behaviour).

Results: Twenty-six papers were identified that met the study inclusion criteria. The studies were of variable quality and most lacked an explicit theoretical framework. Most were cross-sectional in design and therefore not predictive over time. The research shows that there are demographic differences in behaviour: being older, female and more educated, or non-White, is associated with a higher chance of adopting the behaviours. There is evidence that greater levels of perceived susceptibility to and perceived severity of the diseases and greater belief in the effectiveness of recommended behaviours to protect against the disease are important predictors of behaviour. There is also evidence that greater levels of state anxiety and greater trust in authorities are associated with behaviour.

Conclusions: The findings from this review can be broadly explained by theories of health behaviour. However, theoretically driven prospective studies are required to further clarify the relationship between demographic factors, attitudes, and behaviour. The findings suggest that intervention studies and communication strategies should focus on particular demographic groups and on raising levels of perceived threat of the pandemic disease and belief in the effectiveness of measures designed to protect against it.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Communicable Disease Control*
  • Health Behavior*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Influenza A virus
  • Influenza, Human / epidemiology
  • Influenza, Human / prevention & control
  • Influenza, Human / psychology
  • Pandemics / prevention & control*
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / prevention & control
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / psychology