Hygiene and Social Distancing as Distinct Public Health Related Behaviours Among University Students During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Annelot Wismans, Srebrenka Letina, Roy Thurik, Karl Wennberg, Ingmar Franken, Rui Baptista, Jorge Barrientos Marín, Joern Block, Andrew Burke, Marcus DEJARDIN, Frank Janssen, Jinia Mukerjee, Enrico Santarelli, José María Millán, Olivier Torrès

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Prevailing research on individuals’ compliance with public health related behaviours during the COVID-19 pandemic tends to study composite measures of multiple types of behaviours, without distinguishing between different types of behaviours. However, measures taken by governments involve adjustments concerning a range of different daily behaviours. In this study, we seek to explain students’ public health related compliance behaviours during the COVID-19 pandemic by examining the underlying components of such behaviours. Subsequently, we investigate how these components relate to individual attitudes towards public health measures, descriptive norms among friends and family, and key demographics. We surveyed 7,403 university students in ten countries regarding these behaviours. Principal Components Analysis reveals that compliance related to hygiene (hand washing, coughing behaviours) is uniformly distinct from compliance related to social distancing behaviours. Regression analyses predicting Social Distancing and Hygiene lead to differences in explained variance and type of predictors. Our study shows that treating public health compliance as a sole construct obfuscates the dimensionality of compliance behaviours, which risks poorer prediction of individuals’ compliance behaviours and problems in generating valid public health recommendations. Affecting these distinct behaviours may require different types of interventions.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere4383
Pages (from-to)1-26
JournalSocial Psychological Bulletin
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


  • COVID-19
  • public health compliance
  • social distancing
  • hygiene
  • students
  • descriptive norms
  • attitude


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