Adherence to Social Distancing Guidelines Throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Roles of Pseudoscientific Beliefs, Trust, Political Party Affiliation, and Risk Perceptions

Ann Behav Med. 2021 May 6;55(5):399-412. doi: 10.1093/abm/kaab024.


Background: Adherence to COVID-19 social distancing guidelines varies across individuals.

Purpose: This study examined the relations of pseudoscientific and just world beliefs, generalized and institutional trust, and political party affiliation to adherence to COVID-19 social distancing guidelines over three months, as well as the explanatory role of COVID-19 risk perceptions in these relations.

Methods: A U.S. nationwide sample of 430 adults (49.8% women; mean age = 40.72) completed a prospective online study, including an initial assessment (between March 27 and April 5, 2020), a 1 month follow-up (between April 27 and May 21, 2020), and a 3 month follow-up (between June 26 and July 15, 2020). We hypothesized that greater pseudoscientific and just world beliefs, lower governmental, institutional, and dispositional trust, and Republican Party affiliation would be associated with lower initial adherence to social distancing and greater reductions in social distancing over time and that COVID-19 risk perceptions would account for significant variance in these relations.

Results: Results revealed unique associations of lower governmental trust, greater COVID-19 pseudoscientific beliefs, and greater trust in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to lower initial adherence to social distancing. Whereas greater COVID-19 risk perceptions and CDC trust were associated with less steep declines in social distancing over time, both Republican (vs. Democratic) Party affiliation and greater COVID-19 pseudoscientific beliefs were associated with steeper declines in social distancing over time (relations accounted for by lower COVID-19 risk perceptions).

Conclusions: Results highlight the utility of public health interventions aimed at improving scientific literacy and emphasizing bipartisan support for social distancing guidelines.

Keywords: COVID-19; Just world beliefs; Political party; Pseudoscience; Social distancing; Trust.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • COVID-19 / prevention & control*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Health Behavior*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physical Distancing*
  • Politics*
  • Risk
  • Social Behavior*
  • Trust*
  • United States