Following the crowd in times of crisis: Descriptive norms predict physical distancing, panic buying, and prosocial behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Individuals engage in a variety of behavioral responses to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, from complying with or transgressing against physical distancing regulations, to stockpiling or prosocial behavior. We predicted that particularly descriptive social norms are important in driving pandemic-related behavior as they offer guidelines in times of insecurity and crisis. To investigate this assumption, we conducted a longitudinal survey with two measurement points (n = 1907) in Germany during spring 2020. Results show that descriptive norms (perceived behavior of close others) positively predicted future transgression against distancing regulations, stockpiling, and prosocial behavior over time. In our analysis, we account for previous behavior as well as other potential predictors (subjective threat, personality). In sum, our findings highlight the power of descriptive norms in increasing compliance with pandemic-related regulations and promoting future prosocial behavior.

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Objective: This study sought to identify psychosocial predictors of trajectories of adherence to physical distancing alongside changes in public health measures during the COVID-19 pandemic. Design: A three-time point longitudinal survey during the first two waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. Methods: Participants (N = 1003) completed self-report measures of adherence to physical distancing over an 8-month period at the start (T1) and end (T2) of the first wave of the pandemic, and the start of the second wave of the pandemic (T3). Participants also completed measures of their health beliefs related to the self and others, social norms, emotional distress, and sociodemographic characteristics. Results: Using group-based trajectory modeling, four trajectories of adherence to physical distancing emerged: a high-adherence trajectory, a slow-declining trajectory, a fluctuating trajectory, and a fast-declining trajectory. The most important psychosocial predictors of poorer adherence trajectories included perceptions of lower self-efficacy and higher barriers to adherence, as well as lower prosocial attitudes towards physical distancing. Conclusion: Public health messages targeting these factors may be most relevant to promote sustained adherence to physical distancing over time in the context of a pandemic.
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Individuals cooperate more with others whom they feel connected to. As a consequence, reduced belonging to an in-group decreases cooperation with this group, but not with others. Sometimes, however, there may be no new group available to (re)affiliate with. In this case, reduced belonging may either increase cooperation on a higher level, such as with the superordinate group humanity, or increase selfishness. We investigate this in an online experiment and a survey study. Study 1 (N = 299) showed that being ostracized in Cyberball reduced cooperation with the ostracizers and increased selfish behavior, while cooperation with humanity did not increase. Similarly, Study 2 (N = 1300) showed that lower feelings of belonging were associated with more selfishness, as fewer participants decided to donate to a humanitarian cause. These findings highlight the importance of inclusion and integration for societies and communities who wish to maintain a high level of cooperation. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved
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