Social cognitive factors outweigh negative emotionality in predicting COVID-19 related safety behaviors

Grit Hein*, Matthias Gamer, Dominik Gall, Marthe Gründahl, Katharina Domschke, Marta Andreatta, Matthias J. Wieser, Paul Pauli

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Emotion-motivation models propose that behaviors, including health behaviors, should be predicted by the same variables that also predict negative affect since emotional reactions should induce a motivation to avoid threatening situations. In contrast, social cognitive models propose that safety behaviors are predicted by a different set of variables that mainly reflect cognitive and socio-structural aspects. Here, we directly tested these opposing hypotheses in young adults (N = 4134) in the context of COVID-19-related safety behaviors to prevent infections. In each participant, we collected measures of negative affect as well as cognitive and socio-structural variables during the lockdown in the first infection wave in Germany. We found a negative effect of the pandemic on emotional responses. However, this was not the main predictor for young adults’ willingness to comply with COVID-19-related safety measures. Instead, individual differences in compliance were mainly predicted by cognitive and socio-structural variables. These results were confirmed in an independent data set. This study shows that individuals scoring high on negative affect during the pandemic are not necessarily more likely to comply with safety regulations. Instead, political measures should focus on cognitive interventions and the societal relevance of the health issue. These findings provide important insights into the basis of health-related concerns and feelings as well as behavioral adaptations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101559
Pages (from-to)101559
JournalPreventive Medicine Reports
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2021


Dive into the research topics of 'Social cognitive factors outweigh negative emotionality in predicting COVID-19 related safety behaviors'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this