Modeling prevention behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic using Bayesian belief networks and protection motivation theory

Brent Vizanko, Leonid Kadinski, Christopher Cummings, Avi Ostfeld, Emily Zechman Berglund

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Prevention behaviors are important in mitigating the transmission of COVID-19. The protection motivation theory (PMT) links perceptions of risk and coping ability with the act of adopting prevention behaviors. The goal of this research is to test the application of the PMT in predicting adoption of prevention behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic. Two research objectives are achieved to explore motivating factors for adopting prevention behaviors. (1) The first objective is to identify variables that are strong predictors of prevention behavior adoption. A data-driven approach is used to train Bayesian belief network (BBN) models using results of a survey of (Formula presented.) participants reporting risk perceptions and prevention behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic. A large set of models are generated and analyzed to identify significant variables. (2) The second objective is to develop models based on the PMT to predict prevention behaviors. BBN models that predict prevention behaviors were developed using two approaches. In the first approach, a data-driven methodology trains models using survey data alone. In the second approach, expert knowledge is used to develop the structure of the BBN using PMT constructs. Results demonstrate that trust and experience with COVID-19 were important predictors for prevention measure adoption. Models that were developed using the PMT confirm relationships between coping appraisal, threat appraisal, and protective behaviors. Data-driven and PMT-based models perform similarly well, confirming the use of PMT in this context. Predicting adoption of social distancing behaviors provides insight for developing policies during pandemics.

Original languageEnglish
JournalRisk Analysis
StateAccepted/In press - 2024


  • Bayesian belief network
  • COVID-19
  • prevention behaviors
  • protection motivation theory

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Physiology (medical)


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