‘Distancers’ and ‘non-distancers’? The potential social psychological impact of moralizing COVID-19 mitigating practices on sustained behaviour change

Annayah M. B. Prossner*, Madeline Judge, Jan Willem Bolderdijk, Leda Blackwood, Tim Kurz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

61 Citations (Scopus)
152 Downloads (Pure)


COVID‐19 mitigating practices such as ‘hand‐washing’, ‘social distancing’, or ‘social isolating’ are constructed as ‘moral imperatives’, required to avert harm to oneself and others. Adherence to COVID‐19 mitigating practices is presently high among the general public, and stringent lockdown measures supported by legal and policy intervention have facilitated this. In the coming months, however, as rules are being relaxed and individuals become less strict, and thus, the ambiguity in policy increases, the maintenance of recommended social distancing norms will rely on more informal social interactional processes. We argue that the moralization of these practices, twinned with relaxations of policy, may likely cause interactional tension between those individuals who do vs. those who do not uphold social distancing in the coming months: that is, derogation of those who adhere strictly to COVID‐19 mitigating practices and group polarization between ‘distancers’ and ‘non‐distancers’. In this paper, we explore how and why these processes might come to pass, their impact on an overall societal response to COVID‐19, and the need to factor such processes into decisions regarding how to lift restrictions
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)653-662
Number of pages10
JournalBritish Journal of Social Psychology
Issue number3
Early online date25-Jun-2020
Publication statusPublished - Jul-2020


  • COVID-19
  • social distancing
  • social identities
  • shaming
  • behaviour change
  • moralization
  • Covidiots
  • CORE

Cite this