Avoiding Crowded Places During COVID-19: Common Sense or a Complex Strategic Decision?

Martijn Stroom*, Nils Kok, Piet Eichholtz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Policies focused on avoiding crowded places are considered essential in combating the swift diffusion of COVID-19 infections. Adhering to these policies, however, has proven to be more challenging for the population than initially expected. We argue that ambiguity in the recommendation to “avoid crowded places” implicitly forces individuals to make a complex strategic decision. Using a large, representative survey, we examine the effect of key factors, such as context and personal characteristics, on the decision to visit a crowded place. We find that people use information about the crowdedness on the streets to (inaccurately) predict the behavior of others, in order to either optimize their own decision or violate the recommendation. Moreover, we show that education, age, health risk attitude, and COVID-19 exposure all influence the likelihood of going out. Although our results show that a majority of the population intends to abide to policy recommendations, the lack of up-to-date, location-specific information often leads to unintentional violation of the recommendations, ultimately leading to crowded areas.
Original languageEnglish
Article number700640
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Early online date12 Oct 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Oct 2021


  • human decision making
  • cognitive psychology
  • health psychology
  • COVID-19
  • decision making
  • behavioral science
  • collective human behavior
  • public health communication

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