Reactions to COVID-19: Differential predictors of distress, avoidance, and disregard for social distancing Academic Article uri icon

  • Overview
  • Research
  • Identity
  • Additional Document Info
  • View All


  • Background

    Recent psychological research into the effects of COVID-19 has focused largely on understanding excessive fear reactions ("over-responses"). Equally important, but neglected phenomena concern "under-responses", in which people downplay the significance of COVID-19. People who do not take the pandemic seriously may be less likely to adhere to social distancing policies. The present study is, to our knowledge, the first to investigate the differential predictors of over- and under-responses to COVID-19.


    A large community sample from the United States and Canada (N = 6,854) completed measures of beliefs associated with over- and under-responses, along with measures of distress, excessive avoidance, and nonadherence to social distancing. Over-response beliefs were assessed by scales measuring beliefs about the dangerousness of COVID-19 (personal health and socio-economic threats) and COVID-19-related xenophobia (beliefs that foreigners are spreading the virus). Under-response beliefs were assessed by scales measuring beliefs that the threat of COVID-19 has been exaggerated, and beliefs that one is sufficiently healthy to be robust against the effects of COVID-19.


    In regression analyses, medium or large effects were obtained whereby over-response beliefs predicted distress (including distress associated with self-isolation) and excessive avoidance during the pandemic, whereas under-response beliefs predicted the disregard for social distancing.


    This study relied on self-reported cross-sectional data and focused on extreme forms of disregard for social distancing guidelines, CONCLUSION: : It is important to understand under-responses to COVID-19 and how these relate to distress, excessive avoidance, and nonadherence to social distancing. Implications for addressing the problems of over- and under-response are discussed.


publication date

  • December 2020

has subject area