Theory-based Behavioral Predictors of Self-reported Use of Face Coverings in Public Settings during the COVID-19 Pandemic in the United States

Ann Behav Med. 2021 Feb 12;55(1):82-88. doi: 10.1093/abm/kaaa109.


Background: Investigating antecedents of behaviors, such as wearing face coverings, is critical for developing strategies to prevent SARS-CoV-2 transmission.

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to determine associations between theory-based behavioral predictors of intention to wear a face covering and actual wearing of a face covering in public.

Methods: Data from a cross-sectional panel survey of U.S. adults conducted in May and June 2020 (N = 1,004) were used to test a theory-based behavioral path model. We (a) examined predictors of intention to wear a face covering, (b) reported use of cloth face coverings, and (c) reported use of other face masks (e.g., a surgical mask or N95 respirator) in public.

Results: We found that being female, perceived importance of others wanting the respondent to wear a face covering, confidence to wear a face covering, and perceived importance of personal face covering use was positively associated with intention to wear a face covering in public. Intention to wear a face covering was positively associated with self-reported wearing of a cloth face covering if other people were observed wearing cloth face coverings in public at least "rarely" (aOR = 1.43), with stronger associations if they reported "sometimes" (aOR = 1.83), "often" (aOR = 2.32), or "always" (aOR = 2.96). For other types of face masks, a positive association between intention and behavior was only present when observing others wearing face masks "often" (aOR = 1.25) or "always" (aOR = 1.48).

Conclusions: Intention to wear face coverings and observing other people wearing them are important behavioral predictors of adherence to the CDC recommendation to wear face coverings in public.

Keywords: COVID-19; Face covering; Face mask; Planned behavior; Prevention; Social norms.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • COVID-19 / prevention & control*
  • Communicable Disease Control*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Masks*
  • Pandemics / prevention & control
  • Psychological Theory*
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Norms
  • United States