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Social distancing during the coronavirus-disease-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is crucial to reduce the spread of the virus. However, its effectiveness hinges on adherence by individuals who face substantial burdens from the required behavioral restrictions. Here, we investigate sources of individual variation in adhering to social distancing guidelines. In a high-powered study (N = 895), we tested direct and indirect effects of boredom and self-control on adherence. The results showed that both traits were important predictors of adherence but the underlying mechanisms differed. Specifically, individuals high in boredom perceived social distancing as more difficult, which in turn reduced their adherence (i.e., a mediated effect). In contrast, individuals high in self-control adhered more to the guidelines without perceiving them as more or less difficult; however, self-control moderated the effect of difficulty on adherence. Our results are immediately relevant to improve the efficacy of social distancing guidelines in the COVID-19 response.
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Accepted for publication at the International Journal of Environmental Research
and Public Health
High boredom proneness and low trait self-control impair adherence to social distancing guidelines during
the COVID-19 pandemic
Wanja Wolff1,2,, Corinna S. Martarelli 3, Julia Schüler1 & Maik Bieleke 4
1 Department of Sport Science, University of Konstanz, Germany
2 Department of Educational Psychology, University of Bern, Switzerland
3 Faculty of Psychology, Swiss Distance University Institute, Switzerland
4 Department for Psychology of Development and Education, University of Vienna, Austria
Author Note
Wanja Wolff, University of Konstanz, Universitätsstrasse 10, 78464 Konstanz, Germany, Phone: +49
(0)7531 88 3535, Email: wanja.wolff@uni-konstanz.de; Corinna Martarelli, Swiss Distance University Institute,
Überlandstrasse 12, 3900 Brig, Switzerland, Phone: +41 (0)76 340 09 82, Email: corinna.martarelli@fernuni.ch; Julia
Schüler, University of Konstanz, Universitätsstrasse 10, 78464 Konstanz, Germany, Phone: +49 (0)7531 88 2629,
Email: julia.schueler@uni-konstanz.de; Maik Bieleke, University of Vienna, Austria, Phone: +43-1-4277-47404,
Email: maik.bieleke@univie.ac.at
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Abstract: Social distancing during the coronavirus-disease-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is crucial to reduce the
spread of the virus. However, its effectiveness hinges on adherence by individuals who face substantial burdens
from the required behavioral restrictions. Here, we investigate sources of individual variation in adhering to social
distancing guidelines. In a high-powered study (N = 895), we tested direct and indirect effects of boredom and
self-control on adherence. The results showed that both traits were important predictors of adherence but the
underlying mechanisms differed. Specifically, individuals high in boredom perceived social distancing as more
difficult, which in turn reduced their adherence (i.e., a mediated effect). In contrast, individuals high in self-control
adhered more to the guidelines without perceiving them as more or less difficult; however, self-control moderated
the effect of difficulty on adherence. Our results are immediately relevant to improve the efficacy of social
distancing guidelines in the COVID-19 response.
Keywords: COVID-19; Social-Distancing; Self-Control; Boredom; Public Health
1.Introduction
In December 2019, a new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) was discovered. Within three months, the coronavirus
disease 2019 (COVID-19) had developed into a pandemic (WHO, 2020). As of April 11th, there were over 1,700,000
confirmed cases worldwide and over 500’000 confirmed cases in the United States (Dong et al., 2020), making the
US the current epicenter of the pandemic. To mitigate the impact of COVID-19, governments around the world
have adopted non-pharmacological pandemic containment measures. Mathematical modeling of the COVID-19
transmission illustrates that measures such as self-isolation of people with mild COVID-19, quarantine of those
exposed, and social distancing guidelines for the general public are effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19
(Kucharski et al., 2020; Prem et al., 2020; see also Anderson et al., 2020). Government actions like the canceling of
mass events or home confinement periods are important for protecting the public health system from being
overwhelmed by a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases. Crucially, these actions must be accompanied by measures on the
individual level. Governments therefore urge people to reduce unnecessary travel, avoid private gatherings, and
employ social distancing. The effectiveness of these measures relies largely on the compliance of the population.
Thus, individual adherence is crucially important to contain the spread of COVID-19.
On the surface, adhering to social distancing merely requires staying at home. However, social distancing
comes with severe psychological costs that make adherence difficult: It requires people to cope with reduced social
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and physical contact and confronts them with the loss of freedom and familiar routines. Recent research confirmed
this negative psychological impact (Brooks et al., 2020; see also Park & Park, 2020) and identified lack of freedom,
boredom, lack of fresh air, and lack of exercise as the most common negative experiences associated with home
confinement (Barari et al., 2020). This suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic containment measures can take a
substantial toll on individuals, making it likely that they find it difficult to comply with them (Lunn et al., 2020).
Unfortunately, these difficulties likely reduce adherence to social distancing measures and thereby undermine their
effectiveness in slowing the spread of COVID-19.
To better understand for whom social distancing poses a challenge, it is necessary to analyze the role of
individual differences as well as underlying mechanisms. Here, we focus on boredom - a correlate of social
distancing - and self-control a powerful psychological correlate of adaptive behavior (Duckworth, 2011). Recent
theorizing has linked both constructs, suggesting that experiences accompanying boredom and self-control
subserve critical functions in orienting goal-directed behavior; namely to switch activity or to withdraw effort,
respectively (Wolff & Martarelli, 2020). Importantly, individual differences on the trait level are expected to affect
the strength of these signals. Thus, it is conceivable that trait differences in boredom and self-control covary with
difficulties to follow social distancing guidelines, as well as with adherence to these guidelines.
2.The impact of boredom on goal-directed behavior
For trait boredom to threaten the effectiveness of social distancing efforts, these measures would have to
create conditions that are conducive to boredom. Indeed, although boredom is a relatively ubiquitous experience
(Harris, 2000), social distancing seems ideally suited to amplify boredom in boredom prone individuals: Boredom
occurs when an activity is under- or overchallenging and/or low in meaning (Westgate & Wilson, 2018). Further,
being bored is aversive (Eastwood, Frischen, Fenske, & Smilek, 2012) and recent functional models of boredom
propose that this aversive sensation serves as a signal to engage in a different activity (Bench & Lench, 2019;
Westgate & Wilson, 2018; Wolff & Martarelli, 2020). Going back to COVID-19, current theorizing on boredom
suggests that social distancing measures might cause boredom, while at the same time reducing behavioral
options for alleviating boredom. More specifically, by reducing the behavioral choices one has, social distancing
might for example render available activities under-stimulating and/or lacking in meaning and this might make
adherence to these guidelines more difficult (Martarelli & Wolff, 2020). For example, watching TV all day might
diminish in value, while the urge to go outside to meet friends is likely to get stronger, thereby making adherence
to the guidelines challenging. Importantly, as the generalized tendency to experience boredom is a relatively
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stable disposition, boredom prone individuals might experience adherence to social distancing guidelines as
particularly challenging.
The role of self-control in goal-directed behavior
Analogous to the arguments regarding boredom, for trait self-control to affect adherence to social
distancing guidelines following these guidelines should be self-control demanding. As self-control can be
understood as the capacity to overcome competing responses in order to reach a goal (Shenhav et al., 2013), it is
indeed plausible that adhering to these guidelines demands self-control. Besides requiring to resist any
detrimental boredom-induced urges, it requires the control of many habitual behaviors. To illustrate with an
example from COVID-19 containment measures, even the seemingly simple act of overcoming the habitual
response of shaking hands with friends requires self-control. Critically, applying self-control is experienced as
effortful and aversive (Wolff et al., 2019) and functional models of self-control propose that this sensation of effort
signals the costs of control (Kurzban et al., 2013; Shenhav et al., 2017). Consequently, self-control is only applied if
its benefits outweigh its costs (Kurzban et al., 2013). Thus, if the perceived benefits of adhering to social
distancing measures are too low (e.g., one might not believe in their effectiveness), the exertion of control will
produce costs that bias the cost-benefit analysis in a way that lowers the willingness to exert self-control (Wolff &
Martarelli, 2020). Underlining the importance of individual differences, research indicates that individuals with
high trait self-control incur less perceptual and neuronal costs during a control demanding activity (Wolff et al.,
2019). Regarding COVID-19 containment measures, it is plausible that people with low trait self-control are less
likely to adhere to social distancing guidelines when adherence is perceived as self-control demanding.
The present study
Following from the theoretical considerations outlined above, we investigated if trait boredom and trait
self-control covary with adherence to social distancing guidelines. We expect that individuals high in trait
boredom find it more difficult to adhere to social distancing guidelines, which in turn weakens their adherence.
Thus, the effects of boredom on adherence are mediated by its difficulty. Further, we expect trait self-control to
have a direct effect on adherence with social distancing guidelines and to additionally moderate the relationship
between difficulties to adhere and actual adherence. Thus, people high in trait self-control should adhere more to
social distancing guidelines and cope better with the associated difficulties. In a nutshell, trait boredom is
expected to increase difficulties to adhere and high self-control is expected to facilitate adherence and to mitigate
the detrimental effect of these difficulties.
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Methods
Participants
The sample was recruited on 9 and 10 April 2020 from Amazon’s website Mechanical Turk
(requirements: 50 HITs with an approval rate of 90%). Only US citizens were eligible to participate, because
the US had reported the highest number of COVID-19 cases at that time. For the same reason, we oversampled
participants from the state of New York (38.2%), as this was the most affected state at that time. An additional
practical reason for focusing on the US was the rapid access to a large sample and the existence of validated
measures for all trait constructs of interest in English. We aimed for a sample size that allows stable and precise
estimates of correlation coefficients (Schönbrodt & Perugini, 2013). A total of 969 participants completed the
online questionnaire for $1.00. When the same participants took part in the survey more than once, the duplicates
were removed and only the first participation was included in the final dataset (N = 10). Sixty-four participants
(6.7%) did not answer the instructional manipulation check (IMC) item (Oppenheimer et al., 2009) correctly and
were thus excluded from further analyses. The remaining sample (we had no missing values in the sample)
comprised 895 participants (41.4% female) with an average age of 38.1 years (SD = 11.4). The majority of
participants reported 13 years or more of education (85.5%) and was either working full-time (58.8%) or self-
employed (15.9%). About half of the participants (49.6%) reported an annual income between $20,000 and $59,999
(for the complete descriptive statistics of the sample, please see https://osf.io/gp6kf/. The study was approved by
the ethics committee of the University of Konstanz (IRB20KN004-02) and it was carried out in accordance with
the Declaration of Helsinki and the ethical guidelines for experimental research with human participants as
proposed by the German Psychological Society (DGPs) and the American Psychological Association (APA). All
persons gave their written informed consent prior to their inclusion in the study.
Procedure
Participants completed the questionnaire online, using the freely available open source software
Limesurvey (www.limesurvey.org). For the full questionnaire, see OSF (https://osf.io/7ky2q/). After giving
informed consent and confirming that they were at least 21 years of age, participants completed a manipulation
check. In the next step, we assessed adherence to social distancing measures with one item (“I stick to the social
distancing guidelines”) on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = do not agree at all, 5 = fully agree). Moreover, we measured the
difficulty of adhering to social distancing measures with a set of 5 items (e.g., “It is difficult for me to stick to the social
distancing guidelines”, “I need willpower to adhere to the social distancing guidelines”, “Boredom makes it
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difficult to follow the social distancing guidelines”) on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = do not agree at all, 5 = fully agree)
and averaged the answers into a single score. Afterwards, participants worked on the Boredom Proneness Scale-
Short Form (SBPS; Struk et al., 2017), which captures individual differences in trait boredom with 8 items (e.g., “I
often find myself at ‘loose ends,’ not knowing what to do”) on 5-point Likert scales (1 = strongly disagree, 5 =
strongly agree). They then worked on the Capacity for Self-Control Scale (CFSCS; Hoyle & Davisson, 2016), which
measures individual differences in trait self-control with 20 items (e.g., “I am able to resist temptations”) on 5-
point Likert scales (1 = hardly ever, 5 = nearly always). We averaged scores on the SBPS and the CFSCS. Finally,
participants reported their income, education, employment, gender, age, and their state of residence. We also
asked participants whether they had already been diagnosed with COVID-19 or were quarantined because of it.
Statistical approach
To assess our research questions, we used correlation as well as linear and logistic regression analyses.
We also employed structural equation modeling (SEM) to examine the hypothesized associations between
constructs. SEM is a powerful statistical technique that is widely used in psychological research (MacCallum &
Austin, 2000). For instance, it is useful to investigate relationships between variables (e.g., Goetz et al., in press)
and to scrutinize the structure of psychological constructs (e.g., Bieleke & Keller, 2020). Most relevant for the
present study, the SEM technique has also been useful to understand and predict adherence to social distancing
guidelines (Bieleke et al., 2020). For examining the indirect effect of trait boredom on adherence to social
distancing guidelines through perceived difficulty of adhering to these guidelines, bias-corrected bootstrap
confidence intervals based on 10,000 samples are computed. We report the overall model's χ²-statistic along with
the root mean square error of approximation (RSMEA), the standardized root mean square residual (SRMR), the
comparative fit index (CFI), and the Tucker-Lewis index (TLI) to assess model fit. Continuous variables were
mean centered to enhance interpretability and remove non-essential multi-collinearity (Dalal & Zickar, 2012).
Analyses were conducted with R (R core Team, 2019) and Mplus (Muthén & Muthén, 1998-2017). The code to
reproduce analyses as well as the data set are available on OSF (https://osf.io/7ky2q/).
Results
Adherence was generally at an encouragingly high level (M = 4.58, SD = 0.79). Yet, the difficulty scale
(Cronbach's α = .87) revealed that many participants found it difficult to sticking to the social distancing
guidelines (M = 2.31, SD = 1.09). The scales assessing boredom proneness (SBPS) and self-control (CFSCS) showed
very good internal consistencies (Cronbach's αs = .92) and were negatively correlated with each other, r = −.61,
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95% CI [−.65, −.57], t(893) = 23.02, p < .001. The difficulty of adhering to social distancing guidelines was
particularly high among boredom prone individuals with low self-control (Figure 1), which might make them
vulnerable to violations of the guidelines. An overview of the means, standard deviations, and correlations
between variables is provided in Table 1.
Table 1
Means, Standard Deviations, and Correlations Between Key Variables
Variable
M
SD
2
4
1. Adherence
4.58
0.79
2. Difficulty of Adherence
2.31
1.09
3. Diagnosed with COVID-19 or
quarantined because of it
0.06
0.24
.18***
[.12, .24]
4. Trait Boredom (SBPS)
2.40
1.00
.52***
[.47, .57]
5. Trait Self-Control (CFSCS)
3.53
0.71
−.31***
−.61***
[−.37, −.25]
[−.65, −.57]
Note. Values in square brackets indicate the 95% confidence interval. Each correlation is based on N = 895
observations.
*** p < .001.
Figure 1
Relationship Between Trait Boredom, Trait Self-Control, and the Difficulty of Adhering to Social Distancing Measures
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To test the hypothesized structural relationships, we conducted a series of regression analyses.
Unstandardized regression coefficients, standard errors, and significances are summarized in Table 2. We found
that more boredom was associated with less adherence to social distancing guidelines, b = −0.12, 95% CI [−0.18,
−0.05], β = −0.15, SE = 0.03, p < .001, whereas higher self-control was associated with more adherence, b = 0.17, 95%
CI [0.08, 0.26], β = 0.15, SE = 0.03, p < .001. More boredom prone individuals additionally found it more difficult to
adhere to the guidelines, b = 0.58, 95% CI [0.51, 0.66], β = 0.54, SE = 0.04, p < .001, and the association between
boredom and adherence became non-significant once difficulty was accounted for, b = 0.02, 95% CI [−0.05, 0.09], β
= 0.03, SE = 0.03, p = .556. On the other hand, the difficulty of adhering to guidelines was not associated with self-
control, b = 0.03, 95% CI [−0.08, 0.14], β = 0.02, SE = 0.06, p = .589, and better self-control still predicted better
adherence after adjusting for difficulty, b = 0.17, 95% CI [0.09, 0.26], β = 0.16, SE = 0.04, p < .001.
Further, we observed that self-control, b = 0.08, 95% CI [0.01, 0.16], β = 0.08, SE = 0.04, p = .020, but not
boredom, b = −0.01, 95% CI [−0.05, 0.03], β = −0.01, SE = 0.02, p = .618, interacted with difficulty in predicting
adherence, such that the negative association between difficulty and adherence was reduced for higher values of
trait self-control. To follow up on this interaction, we determined the Johnson-Neyman interval of the association
between difficulty and adherence across the CFSCS scale. The results indicate that individuals with extremely
good self-control (i.e., ≥ 4.88 on the untransformed 5-point scale) adhered similarly well to the guidelines
irrespective of how difficult it was, p > .05.
Table 2
Regression Models Investigating the Mediating and Moderating Effects of Trait Boredom and Self-Control on Adherence to
Social Distancing Measures
Dependent Variable
Variable
Adherence
Difficulty
Adherence
Adherence
Adherence
Intercept
0.00
(0.03)
−0.00
(0.03)
0.00
(0.02)
0.02
(0.03)
0.01
(0.03)
Trait Boredom
(SBPS)
−0.12***
(0.03)
0.58***
(0.04)
0.02
(0.03)
0.03
(0.03)
0.02
(0.04)
Trait Self-Control
(CFSCS)
0.17***
(0.03)
0.03
(0.06)
0.17***
(0.04)
0.21***
(0.05)
0.18***
(0.04)
Difficulty of
Adherence
−0.24***
(0.03)
−0.23***
(0.03)
−0.23***
(0.03)
CFSCS ×
Difficulty
0.08*
(0.04)
SBPS ×
Difficulty
−0.01
(0.02)
.07
.27
.15
.15
.15
Adj. R²
.07
.27
.15
.15
.15
N
895
895
895
895
895
Note: All variables were mean-centered prior to the analysis.
*** p < 0.001. ** p < 0.01. * p < 0.05
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Together, this pattern of results suggests that the effects of boredom on adherence to social distancing
measures were mediated by the experienced difficulty of adherence, whereas self-control directly affected
adherence and also moderated the effect of difficulty on adherence. Importantly, this finding did not change we
adjusted for demographic variables (i.e., age, gender, income, education, employment), speaking to the
robustness and generalizability of the results.
To substantiate the structural relationships between constructs observed so far, we estimated a joint
structural equation model in which we specified the effect of trait boredom on adherence as being mediated by
perceived difficulty, while trait self-control was modelled as having a direct effect on adherence and moderating
the association between difficulty and adherence. This model fitted the data well (Kline, 2016), χ²(2) = 11.38, p =
.003, RSMEA = 0.072, SRMR = 0.030, CFI = 0.979, TLI = 0.926. Most importantly, the indirect effect of boredom
proneness on adherence to guidelines could be established, b = −0.13, 95% CI [−0.17, −0.10], β = −0.18, SE = 0.02, p <
.001. An overview of the unstandardized model parameters is given in Figure 2. When adjusting for demographic
variables, we found no changes in the patterns of results or significances with one exception: The interaction
between self-control and difficulty just missed significance, b = 0.08, 95% CI [0.00, 0.16], β = 0.17, SE = 0.03, p =
.053, cautioning against putting too much weight on its interpretation.
Figure 2
Structural Equation Model Showing the Relationship Between Trait Boredom and Trait Self-Control with Adherence to
Social Distancing Measures and Its Difficulty
Notes. Values in square brackets indicate the 95% confidence interval. Solid lines represent significant path; the
dashed line represents the non-significant path. Coefficients were mean-centered prior to the analysis.
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Finally, we investigated whether boredom proneness or self-control were associated with the probability
of being diagnosed with COVID-19 or being quarantined because of it (1 = yes; 57 participants, 6.4%). In a logistic
regression, we found a higher probability among individuals with higher trait boredom, b = 1.02, 95% CI [0.68,
1.37], OR = 2.77, SE = 0.18, p < .001, whereas no association with self-control emerged, b = 0.31, 95% CI [−0.22, 0.86],
OR = 1.36, SE = 0.28, p = .262. This finding was robust to adjusting the analysis for demographic variables.
Discussion
In a high-powered, cross-sectional self-report study, we found empirical support for the proposed
relevance of trait boredom and self-control in explaining adherence to social distancing guidelines that have been
employed to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Importantly, the mechanisms by which boredom and self-control are
linked to adherence differed. People who tend to get bored experienced adherence to social distancing guidelines
as being more difficult, and this increased difficulty was linked to lower adherence. Thus, the relationship
between boredom and adherence was mediated by difficulty. On the other hand, trait self-control had a direct
effect on adherence and additionally moderated the relationship between perceived difficulty and adherence.
Thus, individuals with high trait self-control were more likely to adhere to social distancing when adherence was
perceived as difficult. A tentative interpretation of these findings is that high boredom proneness might be a risk
factor that makes adherence difficult, whereas high self-control might be a resource that helps dealing with these
difficulties. Replicating previous work (Mugon, Struk, & Danckert, 2018), we found a strong inverse relationship
between boredom proneness and self-control. Thus, those who are more likely to experience social distancing as
difficult due to high trait boredom are also more likely to lack the self-control to deal with these challenges. Taken
together, the present findings are in line with current theorizing on self-control and boredom (Wolff & Martarelli,
2020) and extend prior work by highlighting the mechanisms by which both concepts covary with goal-directed
behavior on the trait level. Most importantly in the current situation, our findings are of direct relevance to the
ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Implications for the COVID-19 pandemic
In light of the global efforts to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the key role social
distancing plays in these efforts, it is crucial to understand the psychological variables that affect compliance with
these measures. Mathematical modeling shows that the effectiveness of social distancing measures can be
severely undermined if a (small) proportion of the population do not adhere to them (Chang et al., 2020). Here,
we show that adherence with these measures is significantly associated with boredom and self-control. Therefore,
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our findings can directly inform the ongoing efforts to maximize the effectiveness of pandemic containment
measures.
First, it is crucial to take seriously the threat that is imposed by experiencing boredom when adhering to
social distancing guidelines. Not only was boredom linked with adherence to social distancing guidelines,
exploratory analyses also revealed a link with a higher likelihood of suffering from COVID-19 or being
quarantined. Therefore, efforts that are aimed at reducing boredom are called for. Current theorizing on boredom
offers guidelines that can aid in these efforts (Westgate & Wilson, 2018; Wolff & Martarelli, 2020): Boredom is
more likely to occur when an activity is perceived as low in meaning and when its attentional demands do not
match an agents’ attentional capacity. Further, boredom triggers the search for a more rewarding behavioral
alternative. Thus, public health campaigning might highlight a variety of behavioral opportunities on how to
contribute meaningfully in the current situation
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and on highlighting the utility value of each contribution. In line
with this, research from educational psychology shows that cognitive-approach oriented coping styles alleviate
boredom (Nett et al., 2011).
Second, due to boredom (or other factors) adhering to social distancing guidelines is likely to come with
difficulties. Our results suggest that self-control not only improves adherence but also helps in dealing with these
difficulties. Thus, interventions that are aimed at increasing trait self-control (Friese et al., 2017) might help people
deal with the difficulties they face when adhering to social distancing. In addition to improving self-control,
people could be trained to use self-regulatory strategies that make dealing with these difficulties easier. For
instance, a frequent suggestion for dealing with confinement and social distancing is to structure the day by
making plans (Gollwitzer, 1999). Indeed, people differ in their use of plans (Bieleke & Keller, 2020) and it
therefore seems promising to provide them with planning tools to deal with the difficulties associated with social
distancing measures and thereby increase adherence.
Conclusion
Here, we show that trait boredom and self-control are significantly related to adherence with social
distancing guidelines that have been employed to address the COVID-19 pandemic. However, some limits for
generalizability need to be addressed. First, our sample is a cross-sectional self-report study. Although it has been
shown that self-reports of adherence to COVID-19 containment measures are reliable (Gollwitzer, Martel,
1
This is at odds with most currently made appeals that emphasize on staying home as the most important contribution one can
make (#stayathome). While this might be factually true, such an appeal satisfies neither the demand for adequate stimulation,
nor for variation and might therefore be a recipe for increased boredom.
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Marshall, Höhs, & Bargh, 2020), future research should focus on assessing adherence with objective measures to
minimize the likelihood of biased reporting. Second, we focused on US participants, as the US have been most
strongly affected by COVID-19. However, although most countries have been affected by COVID-19, the degree
to which they have been affected and the specific social distancing guidelines they have employed vary.
Therefore, cross-cultural research is needed to better understand the role of boredom and self-control as a
function of these variables. In addition, it is highly plausible that self-control demands and boredom change over
time, which could intensify the detrimental role of boredom and self-control (Wolff & Martarelli, 2020; Martarelli
& Wolff, 2020). These limits to generalizability notwithstanding, we think that the present research is an
important first step for improving the efficacy of the non-pharmacological efforts to contain the ongoing COVID-
19 pandemic. For example, it is important to assess how boredom and self-control interact with other variables
that have been shown to covary with adherence to the pandemic containment measures, like fear of SARS-nCoV2
(Harper et al., 2020), individual reasoning skills (Pennycook et al., 2020), or the socio-cultural context (Van Bavel
et al., 2020). Also, it seems that specific self-control strategies might play an even greater role than general trait
self-control when it comes to predicting adherence to social distancing guidelines over time (Bieleke, Martarelli, &
Wolff, 2020).
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... Researchers have thus scrambled to elucidate the individualand group-level variables underlying social distancing. For instance, they have examined whether women social distance more than men (Olcaysoy Okten et al., 2020), how boredom proneness and self-control can impair distancing (Wolff et al., 2020), and whether political partisanship predicts distancing , among other predictors. Studies have also examined whether certain interventions can heighten people's distancing, including drawing attention to prosocial benefits (Jordan et al., 2020), eliciting feelings of empathy (Heffner et al., 2020;Pfattheicher et al., 2020), and introducing stay-athome orders at the group level (Engle et al., 2020). ...
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In an effort to combat COVID-19 and future pandemics, researchers have attempted to identify the factors underlying social distancing. Yet, much of this research relies on self-report measures. In two studies, we examine whether self-reported social distancing predicts objective distancing behavior. In Study 1, individuals’ self-reported social distancing predicted decreased mobility (assessed via smartphone step counts) during the COVID-19 pandemic. While participants high in self-reported distancing (+1 SD) exhibited a 33% reduction in daily step counts, those low in distancing (−1 SD) exhibited only a 3% reduction. Study 2 extended these findings to the group level. Self-reported social distancing at the U.S. state level accounted for 20% of the variance in states’ objective reduction in overall movement and visiting nonessential services (calculated via the GPS coordinates of ∼15 million people). Collectively, our results indicate that self-reported social distancing tracks actual social distancing behavior.
... Given its affective benefits, it is imperative that individuals are able to engage in creative activities within a constrained environment. Moreover, feelings of boredom within pandemic-related isolation can potentially deter adherence to safety-measures (Martarelli and Wolff, 2020;Wolff et al., 2020), which is why creative engagement could directly buffer against the effects of the pandemic. ...
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In a bid to curb the spread of COVID-19 in 2020, several countries implemented lockdown procedures to varying degrees. This article sought to examine the extent to which country-level strictness, as measured by the Government Response Stringency Index (2020), moderated the relationship between certain cultural dimensions and estimates of national innovation. Data on 84 countries were collated for Hofstede’s cultural dimensions (2015), and from the Global Innovation Index (2020). Owing to the robust relationships between innovation and the dimensions of uncertainty avoidance, power distance, and individualism, these were used in moderation analyses. In general, power distance was inversely related to innovation, whereas individualism was directly related to it. Results indicated that collectivist and high power distance countries showed lower innovation, irrespective of levels of government stringency as a response to COVID-19. On the other hand, among individualistic and low power distance countries, lower innovation was associated with increased stringency (e.g., blanket restrictions on movement). Higher innovation was observed when such countries had a less severe government response. The dimension of uncertainty avoidance was not significantly associated with innovation at the country level. The implications of lockdowns on general innovation, its inputs, and outputs are discussed in the context of cultural dimensions and country-level policies.
... Other topics relate to the effects of social distancing, including emotional and mental health [30,64,74,89] , as well as socio-economic ramifications [4,5,40,58,65] . In the context of learning, a few studies were found relating to medical and K-12 education. ...
... Leder et al. (2020) indicated that participants mostly followed guidelines that protected themselves rather than the general public. Further, Wolff et al. (2020) found that boredom-prone individuals found it more difficult to adhere to guidelines, while individuals high in self-control adhered more easily. Lastly, Zettler et al. (2020) found in a Danish sample that age and (Negative) Emotionality were positively, and a Dark Factor of Personality negatively, related to accepting personal restrictions to fight COVID-19. ...
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The COVID-19 pandemic has led to changes in people’s private and public lives that are unprecedented in modern history. However, little is known about the differential psychological consequences of restrictions that have been imposed to fight the pandemic. In a large and diverse German sample ( N = 1,320), we examined how individual differences in psychological consequences of the pandemic (perceived restrictiveness of government-supported measures, global pandemic-related appraisals, subjective well-being) were associated with a broad set of faceted personality traits (Big Five, Honesty-Humility, Dark Triad). Facets of Extraversion, Neuroticism, and Openness were among the strongest and most important predictors of psychological outcomes, even after controlling for basic sociodemographic variables (gender, age). These findings suggest that psychological consequences of the pandemic depend on personality and thus add to the growing literature on the importance of considering individual differences in crisis situations.
... Third, our results indicate that those who were inactive during a lockdown, had worse SWB compared to others. This is important as dampened mood states are associated with less self-control which in itself is shown to be an important determinant of complying with restrictive rules such as social distancing Wolff et al., 2020). Therefore, policy makers can use these results and promote exercise and physical activity in their countries to be able to benefit from its positive effects on mood under similar lockdown restrictions in the future. ...
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The governmental lockdowns related to the COVID-19 pandemic have forced people to change their behavior in many ways including changes in exercise. We used the brief window of global lockdown in the months of March/April/May 2020 as an opportunity to investigate the effects of externally imposed restrictions on exercise-related routines and related changes in subjective well-being. Statistical analyses are based on data from 13,696 respondents in 18 countries using a cross-sectional online survey. A mixed effects modeling approach was used to analyze data. We tested whether exercise frequency before and during the pandemic would influence mood during the pandemic. Additionally, we used the COVID-19 pandemic data to build a prediction model, while controlling for national differences, to estimate changes in exercise frequency during similar future lockdown conditions depending on prelockdown exercise frequency. According to the prediction model, those who rarely exercise before a lockdown tend to increase their exercise frequency during it, and those who are frequent exercisers before a lockdown tend to maintain it. With regards to subjective well-being, the data show that those who exercised almost every day during this pandemic had the best mood, regardless of whether or not they exercised prepandemic. Those who were inactive prepandemic and slightly increased their exercise frequency during the pandemic, reported no change in mood compared to those who remained inactive during the pandemic. Those who reduced their exercise frequency during the pandemic reported worse mood compared to those who maintained or increased their prepandemic exercise frequency. This study suggests that under similar lockdown conditions, about two thirds of those who never or rarely exercise before a lockdown might adopt an exercise behavior or increase their exercise frequency. However, such changes do not always immediately result in improvement in subjective well-being. These results may inform national policies, as well as health behavior and exercise psychology research on the importance of exercise promotion, and prediction of changes in exercise behavior during future pandemics.
... In the recreational context, high self-regulatory control has been linked with better adherence to exercise regimens (Stork, Graham, Bray, & Martin Ginis, 2016). This makes intuitive sense, as self-regulatory control has been shown to help people deal with the difficulties of adhering to valued behaviors (Wolff, Martarelli, Schüler, & Bieleke, 2020). At the state level, the application of self-regulatory control detrimentally affects subsequent sports performance (for a meta-analysis, please see ; but see also Holgado, Troya, Perales, Vadillo, & Sanabria, 2019). ...
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Sports performance critically depends on physical fitness and skill level. However, success also hinges on how well athletes deal with psychological obstacles that threaten optimal performance (e.g., Wolff, Bieleke, & Schüler, 2019). For example, in order to make a critical free-throw, basketball players have to ward off challenges to effective movement execution, triggered both externally (e.g., distraction by hostile chants) and internally (e.g., fear of failure). In the same vein, cyclists whose muscles are aching need to overcome their automatic inclination to ease up and slow down. These exemplary challenges are well within the scope of current definitions of self-regulatory control as the “efforts people exert to stimulate desirable responses and inhibit undesirable responses” (de Ridder, Lensvelt-Mulders, Finkenauer, Stok, & Baumeister, 2012, p. 77) or “the set of mechanisms required to pursue a goal, especially when distraction and/or strong (e.g., habitual) competing responses must be overcome” (Shenhav, Botvinick, & Cohen, 2013, p. 217). Thus, it seems plausible that, in addition to fitness and skill, sports performance hinges on the successful exertion of mental effort in the service of self-regulatory control. Indeed, a large body of research has found support for the importance of self-regulatory control in sports (Englert, 2016), both at the trait level (i.e., stable self-regulatory tendencies within an individual) and the state level (i.e., situationally-defined influences on one’s tendency to self-regulate). For instance, on the trait level, one study has shown that elite cyclists outperform non-elite peers in a reaction-time based measure of trait self-control (Martin et al., 2016). In another study, youth athletes in an elite talent development program scored higher on a self-report measure of self-regulatory control than their non-selected peers (Wolff, Bertrams, & Schüler, 2019). In the recreational context, high self-regulatory control has been linked with better adherence to exercise regimens (Stork, Graham, Bray, & Martin Ginis, 2016). This makes intuitive sense, as self-regulatory control has been shown to help people deal with the difficulties of adhering to valued behaviors (Wolff, Martarelli, Schüler, & Bieleke, 2020). At the state level, the application of self-regulatory control detrimentally affects subsequent sports performance (for a meta-analysis, please see Giboin & Wolff, 2019; but see also Holgado, Troya, Perales, Vadillo, & Sanabria, 2019). For example, impaired performance after prior self-regulatory control has been found in such diverse sport settings as sprint-running (Englert, Persaud, Oudejans, & Bertrams, 2015) and dart throwing (Yang, Park, & Shin, 2019). Finally, it has been shown that physical effort causes feelings of mental exertion, impairs self-regulatory control and leads to hypoactivations in control-relevant areas of the brain (Blain et al., 2019; Wolff, Schüler et al., 2019). This is consistent with the claim that physical performance requires self-regulatory control. A multitude of theoretical accounts have been proposed that specify why and when self-regulatory control is applied and why it sometimes appears to fail (e.g., Beedie & Lane, 2012; Inzlicht, Schmeichel, & Macrae, 2014; Kotabe & Hofmann, 2015; Kurzban, Duckworth, Kable, & Myers, 2013; Shenhav et al., 2013). In particular, recent years have seen substantial advancements in our understanding of the guiding principles of self-regulatory control, as well as the neuronal structures that orchestrate its allocation (Munakata et al., 2011; Holroyd & Yeung, 2012; Cavanagh & Frank, 2014; Shenhav et al., 2017). In the present chapter, we will demonstrate how these developments can inform and advance neuroscientific research on self-regulatory control in sports. In part one of this chapter, we will follow recent mechanistic approaches and conceptualize self-regulatory control as a reward-based decision. Specifically, we introduce the expected value of control (EVC) theory (Shenhav et al., 2013) as a mathematically explicit framework that provides a value-based computational expression for the allocation of self-regulatory control and that specifies the mechanistic foundation of self-regulatory control. In part two of the chapter, we will discuss recent technological advancements that have enabled neuroscientific research even during full body movements, an important prerequisite for investigating neural processes during sports performance (Ekkekakis, 2009; Perrey & Besson, 2018). This has enabled researchers to satisfy recent calls to investigate the “sporting brain” (Walsh, 2014, R859) and to examine whether findings from basic cognitive neuroscience can be applied to the field of sports and exercise. We will summarize neuroscientific research in sports through the lens of self-regulatory control, with a specific focus on functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) as a neuroscientific method that appears to be particularly suited for research in sports.
... Indeed, trait boredom is associated with psychological difficulties (e.g., drug abuse, depression, anxiety, binge eating) [40,41]. However, some recent functional approaches have also suggested that boredom constitutes a key signal to change behavior by orientating humans to try to find a more satisfying situation [42]. In the context of lockdown, one may therefore wonder what influence this feeling of boredom has on the development of pro-social behaviors or on compliance with the containment situation in the short or longer term (does it only result in bad things or also in good things?). ...
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A lockdown of people has been used as an efficient public health measure to fight against the exponential spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) and allows the health system to manage the number of patients. The aim of this study (clinicaltrials.gov NCT 0430818) was to evaluate the impact of both perceived stress aroused by Covid-19 and of emotions triggered by the lockdown situation on the individual experience of time. A large sample of the French population responded to a survey on their experience of the passage of time during the lockdown compared to before the lockdown. The perceived stress resulting from Covid-19 and stress at work and home were also assessed, as were the emotions felt. The results showed that people have experienced a slowing down of time during the lockdown. This time experience was not explained by the levels of perceived stress or anxiety, although these were considerable, but rather by the increase in boredom and sadness felt in the lockdown situation. The increased anger and fear of death only explained a small part of variance in the time judgment. The conscious experience of time therefore reflected the psychological difficulties experienced during lockdown and was not related to their perceived level of stress or anxiety.
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This scoping review focused on answering key questions about the focus, quality and generalisability of the quantitative evidence on the determinants of adherence to social distancing measures in research during the first wave of COVID-19. The review included 84 studies. The majority of included studies were conducted in Western Europe and the USA. Many lacked theoretical input, were at risk for bias, and few were experimental in design. The most commonly coded domains of the TDF in the included studies were ‘Environmental Context and Resources’ (388 codes across 76 studies), ‘Beliefs about Consequences’ (34 codes across 21 studies), ‘Emotion’ (28 codes across 12 studies), and ‘Social Influences’ (26 codes across 16 studies). The least frequently coded TDF domains included ‘Optimism’ (not coded), ‘Intentions’ (coded once), ‘Goals’ (2 codes across 2 studies), ‘Reinforcement’ (3 codes across 2 studies), and ‘Behavioural Regulation’ (3 codes across 3 studies). Examining the focus of the included studies identified a lack of studies on potentially important determinants of adherence such as reinforcement, goal setting and self-monitoring. The quality of the included studies was variable and their generalisablity was threatened by their reliance on convenience samples.
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Boredom is one of the basic emotions experienced by many people of all age groups. The long and frequent experience of this emotion creates negative emotions such as stress, depression, substance abuse, and anxiety. For this reason, measurement tools that measure boredom are critical. In this study, due to this critical importance, the short version of the seven-item Boredom Tendency scale developed by Struk, Carriere, Cheyne and Danckert (2015) was adapted to Turkish. In adaptation, first of all, language equivalence was achieved by following the steps in the literature. For construct validity, exploratory factor analysis (EFA) was performed with the data collected from 496 university students, and confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) was performed with the data collected from 251 students. Significant and good levels results were obtained in both analyzes. The stress sub-factor of the DASS-21 was used for criterion validity. The relationship between the short boredom scale and stress was examined with the data collected from 90 students and the correlation value was r = .57. For the reliability of the adapted scale, the Cronbach’s alpha (α) value and the discrimination of 27% lower and upper groups were examined. As a result of the analysis, α =, 91 and a significant t-test value (t = 42.328; p <, 001) was obtained. As a result, good levels of analysis results were obtained in the adaptation process and the Short Boredom Proneness Scale was introduced to the literature.
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In response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) schools around the world have been closed to protect against the spread of coronavirus. In several countries, homeschooling has been introduced to replace classroom schooling. With a focus on individual differences, the present study examined 138 schoolers (age range = 6 to 21 years) regarding their self-control and boredom proneness. The results showed that both traits were important in predicting adherence to homeschooling. Schoolers with higher levels of self-control perceived homeschooling as less difficult, which in turn increased homeschooling adherence. In contrast, schoolers with higher levels of boredom proneness perceived homeschooling as more difficult, which in turn reduced homeschooling adherence. These results partially hold when it comes to studying in the classroom. However, boredom threatened adherence only in the homeschooling context. Our results indicate that boredom proneness is a critical construct to consider when educational systems switch to homeschooling during a pandemic.
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There is a continuing debate on relative benefits of various mitigation and suppression strategies aimed to control the spread of COVID-19. Here we report the results of agent-based modelling using a fine-grained computational simulation of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in Australia. This model is calibrated to match key characteristics of COVID-19 transmission. An important calibration outcome is the age-dependent fraction of symptomatic cases, with this fraction for children found to be one-fifth of such fraction for adults. We apply the model to compare several intervention strategies, including restrictions on international air travel, case isolation, home quarantine, social distancing with varying levels of compliance, and school closures. School closures are not found to bring decisive benefits unless coupled with high level of social distancing compliance. We report several trade-offs, and an important transition across the levels of social distancing compliance, in the range between 70% and 80% levels, with compliance at the 90% level found to control the disease within 13–14 weeks, when coupled with effective case isolation and international travel restrictions.
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Objectives: In the wake of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), social distancing is instrumental for containing the pandemic. To maximize its effectiveness, it is paramount to investigate psychological factors that predict adherence to social distancing guidelines and examine corresponding interventions. We focused on individual differences in if-then planning, self-control, and boredom, and tested an intervention based on if-then planning. Design: We conducted a two-wave longitudinal study combining observational and experimental methods. Methods: Participants (N = 574, 35.7% female, age: M = 37.5 years, SD = 10.8) reported their adherence to social distancing guidelines and the perceived difficulty of adherence at T1, along with trait measures of if-then planning, self-control, and boredom. Afterwards, they were randomly assigned to an if-then planning intervention to increase adherence, or to a control intervention. One week later at T2, participants again reported their adherence and the perceived difficulty of adhering. Multiple regression and structural equation modeling were used to establish whether trait if-then planning, self-control, and boredom predicted adherence, and to examine the effects of the if-then planning intervention. Results: Trait if-then planning, self-control, and boredom were associated with T1 adherence, while only if-then planning and boredom predicted T2 adherence. No overall treatment effect of the if-then planning intervention emerged; however, participants who complied with the intervention (75.6%) maintained higher levels of adherence over time than control participants. Conclusions: Individual differences in if-then planning, self-control, and boredom predict adherence to social distancing guidelines. If-then planning interventions are promising but require further steps to ascertain compliance.
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Social distancing is the single most effective method to reduce the spread of COVID-19. As such, researchers across varying fields are currently attempting to identify the variables that predict social distancing and which interventions can heighten social distancing. Yet, much of this research relies on self-report measures (in part because of social distancing guidelines themselves). In two studies we examine whether self-reported social distancing overlaps with real-world behavior. In Study 1, individuals’ self-reported social distancing predicted decreased movement as quantified by participants’ average daily step-counts (assessed via smartphone pedometers). In Study 2, the degree of self-reported social distancing in different U.S. States predicted the degree to which people in those States reduced their overall movement and travel to non-essential retail as assessed by ~17 million smart-phone GPS coordinates. Collectively, our results indicate that self-report measures of social distancing track actual behavior both at the individual and at the group level.
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In the current context of the global pandemic of coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19), health professionals are working with social scientists to inform government policy on how to slow the spread of the virus. An increasing amount of social scientific research has looked at the role of public message framing, for instance, but few studies have thus far examined the role of individual differences in emotional and personality-based variables in predicting virus-mitigating behaviors. In this study, we recruited a large international community sample (N = 324) to complete measures of self-perceived risk of contracting COVID-19, fear of the virus, moral foundations, political orientation, and behavior change in response to the pandemic. Consistently, the only predictor of positive behavior change (e.g., social distancing, improved hand hygiene) was fear of COVID-19, with no effect of politically relevant variables. We discuss these data in relation to the potentially functional nature of fear in global health crises.
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During the past two decades, self-control research has been dominated by the strength model of self-control which is built on the premise that the capacity for self-control is a limited global resource that can become temporarily depleted, resulting in a state called ego depletion. The foundations of ego depletion have recently been questioned. Thus, although self-control is among the most researched psychological concepts with high societal relevance, an inconsistent body of literature limits our understanding of how self-control operates. Here, we propose that the inconsistencies are partly due to a confound that has unknowingly and systematically been introduced into ego depletion research: Boredom. We propose that boredom might affect results of self-control research by 1) placing an unwanted self-control demand, and 2) signaling that one should explore behavioral alternatives. To account for boredom in self-controlled behavior, we provide a working model that integrates evidence from reward-based models of self-control and recent theorizing on boredom to explain effects of both self-control exertion and boredom on subsequent self-control performance. We propose that task-induced boredom should be systematically monitored in self-control research to assess the validity of the ego depletion effect.
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Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by coronavirus (SARS-nCoV2) is currently spreading across the world. In response, different sets of pandemic containment measures have been employed by several countries. The effectiveness of non-pharmacological measures such as home confinement hinges on adherence by the population. While adherence to these social distancing measures appears to be high in general, adherence might be more challenging for some individuals and complying with these measures might become more difficult the longer they last. Here, we suggest that boredom and self-control are two important psychological concepts for understanding the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic containment measures pose to individuals. To maximize adherence to these measures, we propose to consider the specific and combined effects of boredom and self-control demands elicited by this situation on subsequent behavior.
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This rapid, narrative review summarizes useful evidence from behavioral science for fighting the COVID-19 outbreak. We undertook an extensive, multi-disciplinary literature search covering five issues: handwashing, face touching, self-isolation, public-spirited behavior, and responses to crisis communication. The search identified more than 100 relevant papers. We find effective behavioral interventions to increase handwashing, but not to reduce face touching. Social supports and behavioral plans can reduce the negative psychological effects of isolation, potentially reducing the disincentive to isolate. Public-spirited behavior is more likely with frequent communication of what is “best for all”, strong group identity, and social disapproval of noncompliance. Effective crisis communication involves speed, honesty, credibility, empathy, and promoting useful individual actions. Risks are probably best communicated through numbers, with ranges to describe uncertainty – simply stating a maximum may bias public perception. The findings aim to be useful not only for government and public health authorities, but for organizations and communities.
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Background An outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has led to 95 333 confirmed cases as of March 5, 2020. Understanding the early transmission dynamics of the infection and evaluating the effectiveness of control measures is crucial for assessing the potential for sustained transmission to occur in new areas. Combining a mathematical model of severe SARS-CoV-2 transmission with four datasets from within and outside Wuhan, we estimated how transmission in Wuhan varied between December, 2019, and February, 2020. We used these estimates to assess the potential for sustained human-to-human transmission to occur in locations outside Wuhan if cases were introduced. Methods We combined a stochastic transmission model with data on cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Wuhan and international cases that originated in Wuhan to estimate how transmission had varied over time during January, 2020, and February, 2020. Based on these estimates, we then calculated the probability that newly introduced cases might generate outbreaks in other areas. To estimate the early dynamics of transmission in Wuhan, we fitted a stochastic transmission dynamic model to multiple publicly available datasets on cases in Wuhan and internationally exported cases from Wuhan. The four datasets we fitted to were: daily number of new internationally exported cases (or lack thereof), by date of onset, as of Jan 26, 2020; daily number of new cases in Wuhan with no market exposure, by date of onset, between Dec 1, 2019, and Jan 1, 2020; daily number of new cases in China, by date of onset, between Dec 29, 2019, and Jan 23, 2020; and proportion of infected passengers on evacuation flights between Jan 29, 2020, and Feb 4, 2020. We used an additional two datasets for comparison with model outputs: daily number of new exported cases from Wuhan (or lack thereof) in countries with high connectivity to Wuhan (ie, top 20 most at-risk countries), by date of confirmation, as of Feb 10, 2020; and data on new confirmed cases reported in Wuhan between Jan 16, 2020, and Feb 11, 2020. Findings We estimated that the median daily reproduction number (Rt) in Wuhan declined from 2·35 (95% CI 1·15–4·77) 1 week before travel restrictions were introduced on Jan 23, 2020, to 1·05 (0·41–2·39) 1 week after. Based on our estimates of Rt, assuming SARS-like variation, we calculated that in locations with similar transmission potential to Wuhan in early January, once there are at least four independently introduced cases, there is a more than 50% chance the infection will establish within that population. Interpretation Our results show that COVID-19 transmission probably declined in Wuhan during late January, 2020, coinciding with the introduction of travel control measures. As more cases arrive in international locations with similar transmission potential to Wuhan before these control measures, it is likely many chains of transmission will fail to establish initially, but might lead to new outbreaks eventually. Funding Wellcome Trust, Health Data Research UK, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and National Institute for Health Research.
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The COVID-19 pandemic presents an unprecedented challenge to humanity. Yet there seems to be substantial variation across individuals in knowledge and concern about COVID-19, as well as in the willingness to change behaviors in the face of the pandemic. Here, we investigated the roles of political ideology and cognitive sophistication in explaining these differences across the U.S.A. (N = 689), the U.K. (N = 642), and Canada (N = 644) using preregistered surveys conducted in late March, 2020. We found evidence that political polarization around COVID-19 risk perceptions, behavior change intentions, and misperceptions was greater in the U.S. than in the U.K.. However, Canada and the U.S. did not strongly differ in their level of polarization. Furthermore, in all three countries, cognitive sophistication (indexed by analytic thinking, numeracy, basic science knowledge, and bullshit skepticism) was a negative predictor of COVID-19 misperceptions – and in fact was a stronger predictor of misperceptions than political ideology (despite being unrelated to risk perceptions or behavior change intentions). Finally, we found no evidence that cognitive sophistication was associated with increased polarization for any of our COVID-19 measures. Thus, although there is some evidence for political polarization of COVID-19 in the U.S. and Canada (but not the U.K.), accurate beliefs about COVID-19 (albeit not intentions to act) are broadly associated with the quality of one’s reasoning skill regardless of political ideology or background polarization.