Social norms and prevention behaviors in the United States early in the COVID-19 pandemic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The current study assessed how social norms were associated with the three effective Covid-19 prevention behaviors of social distancing, handwashing, and wearing protective face masks during the early stages of the pandemic in the US. Study participants were recruited online. Data from the present study was from a baseline quantitative survey administered from March 25th−27th, 2020. The 808 study participants were recruited for a longitudinal study online. Eligibility requirements included age 18 or older, living in the United States, English speaking and reading had heard of the Coronavirus or Covid-19, and provided informed consent. The three outcome variables were handwashing, mask wearing, and social distancing. Injunctive and descriptive norms were assessed. The injunctive norm of perceiving friends would find them rude if they did not affiliate with them because Covid-19 was associated with all three outcomes in both the bivariate and multivariate logistic regression models with adjusted odds ratios ranging from (aOR) = .80 for handwashing to aOR = .63 for social distancing and aOR = .77 for mask wearing. The descriptive cognitive norm of friends worrying about becoming infected was associated with all three outcomes in the bivariate analysis but only mask wearing in the multivariate models (aOR = 1.74). The study findings suggest there are strong social factors that correlate with behaviors to prevent the transmission of SARS-CoV-2. These findings also suggest that public health communication campaigns should focus on more than heightening risk perceptions. They should include attention to social norms and perceptions of social risks to significant others.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)162-177
Number of pages16
JournalPsychology, Health and Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022


  • COVID-19
  • Social norms
  • face masks
  • handwashing
  • prevention
  • social distancing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Applied Psychology


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