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York College professor’s data analysis helps employers prevent spread of COVID-19

head and shoulders of Perri

Preventing accidents in the workplace is a top priority for employers across the country. But when COVID-19 threatened the health and well-being of employees, businesses lacked the resources to prevent the spread of a virus unlike any the country has seen in modern times.

“It became apparent pretty early on that this would require a long-term response,” says Perri Druen, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychology at York College of Pennsylvania. Druen specializes in social and personality psychology, which often uses scales to determine how people respond to different situations.

A consulting firm out of Chicago, which works with employers on accident prevention programs, wanted to develop a way for its clients to measure the risk factors of its employees so businesses could determine who needed to work from home or who required more safety training.

Understanding personalities

Druen was brought on board along with faculty from other universities, including her former graduate school advisor at the University of Louisville. Together, the researchers developed more than 50 questions that were sent out in a survey. Responses from that survey came in between April 8 and May 12. A second set of questions were sent to the same respondents 14 to 24 days later.

“Overall, we were trying to create a reliable and valid scale to assess what we call a coronavirus behavioral health mindset,” Druen says. “It generally assesses a person’s bio safety risk. We wanted to measure someone’s willingness to accept their responsibility to protect themselves and others and follow the guidelines at home and at work.”

People who had higher scores and were more willing to follow the guidelines tended to be older and had the personality attributes of agreeableness and openness, and were interested in social vocational interests. People who scored lower tended to express a conservative political affiliation and had realistic vocational interests, such as bricklayers or roadworkers. “When we started, the coronavirus wasn’t highly politicized,” Druen says. “As we continued, it became more divisive. We saw two groups in America starting to pull apart on whether they thought the guidelines were legitimate.”

Applying the data

The results of the data analysis were used by the consulting firm to build an app that employers can use to gauge an employee’s mindset about COVID-19 to help employers lessen the spread of the virus. Capturing that perspective helps an employer determine if it might be better for an employee to work from home or if they require additional protocol training.

Druen and her colleagues also are working on creating another scale that will track whether people believe the threat from the virus is being exaggerated or downplayed.   

“As a professor of psychology, it’s great to be able to show my students that research is something that has real-world application and isn’t something very dry that’s only done in a lab,” Druen says. “I had a lot of support from my own students and York College colleagues who participated in the research.”


If you would like to participate in the next round of research, you can do so anonymously using this link: