Predictors Of Covid-19 Related Health Behaviors Of U.S. College Students


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Suejung Han

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A. Problem: Opening college campuses in Fall 2020 during the continued Covid-19 pandemic relied upon college students’ adherence to safety guidelines on and off campus. The theory of planned behaviors (Ajzen, 1991) suggests that following safety guidelines would be determined by students’ beliefs about the guidelines themselves (i.e., positive attitudes, subjective norms—perception of others’ expectations, behavioral control—perception of one’s capability). Also, college students feel pandemic-related emotional distress (Son et al., 2020), with their psychological needs for relatedness and autonomy frustrated (Deci & Ryan, 2000) due to limited social contacts and imposed changes on college life (Lederer et al., 2020), which may discourage their cooperation. Self-determination theory also predicts better safety measure adherence when students identify with its value (i.e., identified regulation) than when they feel forced to do so (i.e., introjected or external regulation). Thus, this study examined health guideline beliefs, felt threat, frustrated needs for relatedness and autonomy and regulatory motivations as predictors of both college students’ intentions and enactment of the four safety measures (i.e., washing hands, limiting travels, avoiding social contacts, and physical distancing; Vansteenkiste, n.d.).

B. Procedure: College students (mean age=19.72) in a U.S. Midwestern university (47 cismen, 189 ciswomen) participated in the online survey that included the Feeling of Threat Scale (Chen et al., 2015), Need Frustration Scale (Chen, Vansteenkiste, et al., 2015), Adherence to Safety Measures (Vansteenkiste, n.d.), Motivations to Adhere to the Measures (Soenens et al., 2009), and an adapted Theory of Planned Behavior measure (Ajzen, 1991). Eight hierarchical regression analyses were conducted with four behavioral intentions and enactments as dependent variables. Felt threat and frustrated needs were entered in Step 1; positive attitude, subjective norms, and perceived control in Step 2; and identified, introjected, and external regulation in Step 3.

C. Results: The model predicted intention to engage in covid-safety behaviors significantly, R=.64, R2=.41, F(10,124)=8.44, p<.001. In Step1, feeling of threat predicted intention positively, β=.22, p=.01.

In Step2, subjective norms predicted intention positively, β=.41, p<.001. In Step 3, subjective norms, β=.38, p=.005, identified regulation, β=.24,p=.05, and introjectedregulation, β=.23,p=.03, predicted intention positively. The model predicted behavioral engagement significantly, R=.56, R2=.32, F(10,12)=5.61, p<.001. In both Steps2 and 3, only subjective norms predicted intention positively, β=.47, p<.001 in Step2; β=.38, p=.001.

D. Implications: University professionals may promote identified motivation for safety measures while finding ways to support autonomy and establish peer norms on campus to enhance safety adherence among college students.

This study examined health beliefs, regulatory motivations, and frustrated psychological needs as predictors for adherence to covid-19 related safety measures among U.S. college students. Results showed that subjective norms (i.e., perception of others’ expectations), identified regulation (i.e., identifying with the value), and frustrated need for autonomy (negative prediction) contributed significantly. predicted both intention and enactment of safety measures (i.e., washing hands, limiting travels, avoiding social contacts, and physical distancing).


Authors: Nicholas Shilney, Emily Aument, Patrick Linebrink, Taylor Leach, and Emily McLaughlin

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Predictors Of Covid-19 Related Health Behaviors Of U.S. College Students