Identifying as someone who avoids virus transmission strengthens physical distancing habit-behaviour relationships: A longitudinal multi-national study during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Appl Psychol Health Well Being. 2022 May 20. doi: 10.1111/aphw.12369. Online ahead of print.


Physical distancing remains an important initiative to curb COVID-19 and virus transmission more broadly. This exploratory study investigated how physical distancing behaviour changed during the COVID-19 pandemic and whether it was associated with identity with virus transmission avoidance and physical distancing habit strength. In a longitudinal, multinational study with fortnightly repeated-assessments, associations and moderation effects were considered for both overall (person-level means) and occasion-specific deviations in habit and identity. Participants (N = 586, M age = 42, 79% female) self-reported physical distancing behavioural frequency, physical distancing habit strength, and identity with avoiding virus transmission. Physical distancing followed a cubic trajectory, with initial high engagement decreasing rapidly before increasing again near study end. Physical distancing was associated with both overall and occasion-specific virus transmission avoidant identity and physical distancing habit strength. People with strong virus transmission avoidant identity engaged in physical distancing frequently regardless of fluctuations in habit strength. However, for those with weaker virus transmission avoidant identity, physical distancing was strongly aligned with fluctuations in habit strength. To enhance engagement in physical distancing, public health messaging might fruitfully target greater or more salient virus-transmission avoidance identity and stronger physical distancing habit.

PMID:35593187 | DOI:10.1111/aphw.12369