To assess individuals’ social distancing behaviour, researchers presented study participants with virtual depictions of real-world social situations and examined how participants positioned themselves relative to others in various public settings like a crowded beach or a grocery store.
After four months, participants were asked if they had tested positive for Covid-19 and based on the participants’ responses an index of social distancing was made. It showed that that the more participants demonstrated a preference for social distancing in the scenarios, the less likely they were to have become ill with COVID-19.
Specifically, an increase of one standard deviation in the social distancing index was associated with approximately a 20 per cent decrease in the odds of contracting COVID-19.
The research has been published on February 4 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)
According to the authors, the study’s implication was clear – what was beneficial for society according to public health advice was also good for individuals who wanted to avoid the virus.
This result held whether only participants who tested positive for COVID-19 were considered or whether untested participants who believed that they had contracted the virus were included.
Researchers report the individual benefits of social distancing for COVID-19 prevention. Epidemiological evidence has shown that social distancing can reduce COVID-19 transmission in the aggregate. However, this does not necessarily mean that an individual’s social distancing behavior will reduce that individual’s personal likelihood of contracting COVID-19.
Russell Fazio and colleagues used an online, longitudinal study of 2,120 US residents, average age 40 years, to determine whether individual differences in social distancing behavior predicted the likelihood that a person would contract COVID-19 during subsequent months.