Habits and Reflective Processes in COVID-19 Transmission-reducing Behaviors: Examining Theoretical Predictions in a Representative Sample of the Population of Scotland

Chantal den Daas, Diane Dixon, Gill Hubbard, Julia Allan, Marie Johnston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Based on theory, COVID-19 transmission-reducing behaviors (TRBs) should become habitual because of their frequent performance. Habits have been hypothesized to develop through reflective processes and, to act in conjunction with them.

PURPOSE: We investigated the existence, development, and consequences of TRB habits, for physical distancing, handwashing, and wearing face coverings.

METHODS: A representative sample of the Scottish population (N = 1,003) was interviewed by a commercial polling company in August-October 2020 and half were re-interviewed later. Measures included adherence, habit, personal routine tendency, reflective processes, and action control for three TRBs. Data were analyzed using general linear modeling, regression, and mediation analyses.

RESULTS: Handwashing was most habitual; only face covering became more habitual over time. Routine tendencies predicted TRB habits, and adherence to handwashing and physical distancing. Those reporting greater habits reported better adherence, for physical distancing and handwashing, and this remained true after controlling for previous adherence. Reflective and habit processes independently predicted adherence for physical distancing and handwashing; only reflective processes were independently predictive for face covering. The relationship between planning and forgetting and adherence was partly direct, and partly mediated by habit.

CONCLUSIONS: The results confirm hypotheses from habit theory including the role of repetition and of personal routine tendency in developing habits. They are consistent with dual processing theory in finding that both reflective and habit processes predict adherence to TRBs. Action planning partly mediated the relation between reflective processes and adherence. The COVID-19 pandemic has enabled the testing and confirmation of several theoretical hypotheses about habit processes in the enactment of TRBs.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAnnals of Behavioral Medicine
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 Jun 2023

Cite this