Journal Article

Behaviours and attitudes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic: insights from a cross-national Facebook survey

Perrotta, D., Grow, A., Rampazzo, F., Cimentada, J., Del Fava, E., Gil-Clavel, B. S., Zagheni, E.
EPJ Data Science, 10:17, 1–13 (2021)
Open Access


In the absence of medical treatment and vaccination, individual behaviours are key to curbing the spread of COVID-19. Here we describe efforts to collect attitudinal and behavioural data and disseminate insights to increase situational awareness and inform interventions.
We developed a rapid data collection and monitoring system based on a cross-national online survey, the “COVID-19 Health Behavior Survey”. Respondent recruitment occurred via targeted Facebook advertisements in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. We investigated how the threat perceptions of COVID-19, the confidence in the preparedness of organisations to deal with the pandemic, and the adoption of preventive and social distancing behaviours are associated with respondents’ demographic characteristics.
We analysed 71,612 questionnaires collected between March 13-April 19, 2020. We found substantial spatio-temporal heterogeneity across countries at different stages of the pandemic and with different control strategies in place. Respondents rapidly adopted the use of face masks when they were not yet mandatory. We observed a clear pattern in threat perceptions, sharply increasing from a personal level to national and global levels. Although personal threat perceptions were comparatively low, all respondents significantly increased hand hygiene. We found gender-specific patterns: women showed higher threat perceptions, lower confidence in the healthcare system, and were more likely to adopt preventive behaviours. Finally, we also found that older people perceived higher threat to themselves, while all respondents were strongly concerned about their family.
Rapid population surveys conducted via Facebook allow us to monitor behavioural changes, adoption of protective measures, and compliance with recommended practices. As the pandemic progresses and new waves of infections are a threatening reality, timely insights from behavioural and attitudinal data are crucial to guide the decision-making process.

Keywords: Europe, USA
The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.