Relational Mobility Predicts Faster Spread of COVID-19: A 39-Country Study

Psychol Sci. 2020 Oct;31(10):1236-1244. doi: 10.1177/0956797620958118. Epub 2020 Sep 11.


It has become increasingly clear that COVID-19 is transmitted between individuals. It stands to reason that the spread of the virus depends on sociocultural ecologies that facilitate or inhibit social contact. In particular, the community-level tendency to engage with strangers and freely choose friends, called relational mobility, creates increased opportunities to interact with a larger and more variable range of other people. It may therefore be associated with a faster spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19. Here, we tested this possibility by analyzing growth curves of confirmed cases of and deaths due to COVID-19 in the first 30 days of the outbreaks in 39 countries. We found that growth was significantly accelerated as a function of a country-wise measure of relational mobility. This relationship was robust either with or without a set of control variables, including demographic variables, reporting bias, testing availability, and cultural dimensions of individualism, tightness, and government efficiency. Policy implications are also discussed.

Keywords: COVID-19; open data; open materials; relational mobility; sociocultural factors.

MeSH terms

  • BCG Vaccine
  • Betacoronavirus
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology*
  • Coronavirus Infections / prevention & control
  • Coronavirus Infections / transmission*
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Humans
  • Internationality
  • Models, Biological*
  • Pandemics / prevention & control
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / prevention & control
  • Pneumonia, Viral / transmission*
  • Public Health / legislation & jurisprudence
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Social Behavior*
  • Vaccination / statistics & numerical data


  • BCG Vaccine