When, why, and how do People Deviate from Physical Distancing Measures During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Mixed-Methods Study

M. Van Alboom*, F. Baert, A. Wauters, M. Beeckman, S. Maes, A. Kissi, E. Veirman, D.M.L. Van Ryckeghem, A. De Paepe, L. Poppe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Web of Science)


Introduction: To limit the spread of COVID-19, many countries, including Belgium, have installed physical distancing measures. Yet, adherence to these newly installed behavioral measures has been described as challenging and effortful. Based on the Health Action Process Approach (HAPA) model, this study performed an in-depth evaluation of when, why, and how people deviated from the physical distancing measures.Methods: An online mixed-method study was conducted among Belgian adults (N = 2055) in the beginning of May 2020. Participants were recruited via an open call through email and social media platforms, using snowball sampling. Conditions wherein people deviated from the physical distancing measures were assessed by means of an open-ended question. HAPA determinants were assessed in a quantitative way.Results: Half of the sample reported to deviate from the measures. Further, deviation from the measures was associated with each determinant outlined by the HAPA. Findings highlight that many people deviated from the measures because of their need for social contact. The majority of the people who deviated from the measures stated that they carefully weighed the risks of their behavior.Conclusions: Need for social contact pushed people to deviate from physical distancing measures in a deliberate manner. Potential areas for future interventions aimed at promoting adherence to physical distancing measures and enhancing psychosocial well-being are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)262-273
Number of pages12
JournalPsychologica Belgica
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • COVID-19
  • physical distancing measures
  • HAPA
  • motivation for deviation

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