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Description: The present study examined individual characteristics potentially associated with changes in mitigation behaviors (social distancing and hygiene) recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Analysis of online survey responses from 361 adults, ages 20-78, with US IP addresses, identified significant predictors of adaptive behavioral changes, with implications for preventive strategies and mental health needs. The extent to which individuals changed their mitigation behaviors was unrelated to self-rated health or concern regarding the personal effects of COVID-19 but was related to concern regarding the effects of the pandemic on others. Thus, mitigation behaviors do not appear to be primarily motivated by self-protection. Importantly, adaptive changes in mitigation behaviors increased with age. However, these changes, particularly those related to the frequency of close proximity encounters, appear to be due to age-related decreases in anxiety and depression rather than reflecting increases in age differences in wisdom or self-control. Taken together, the present results argue against over-reliance on ‘fear appeals’ in public health messages as they may increase anxiety and depression. Instead, the present findings argue for more appeals to people’s concern for others to motivate mitigation as well as indicating an immediate need to address individual mental health concerns for the sake of society as a whole.

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