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.


This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Wismans, A., Letina, S., Thurik, R., Wennberg, K., Franken, I., Baptista, R., Barrientos Marín, J., Block, J., Burke, A., Dejardin, M., Janssen, F., Mukerjee, J., Santarelli, E., Millán, J. & Torrès, O. 2020, 'Hygiene and social distancing as distinct public health related behaviours among university students during the COVID-19 pandemic', Social Psychological Bulletin, 15(4), article no: e4383. https://doi.org/10.32872/spb.4383

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Last updated: 01 March 2023
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