COVID-19 Mitigation Among College Students: Social Influences, Behavioral Spillover, and Antibody Results

Rachel A. Smith, Meg L. Small, Nita Bharti, Samuel J. DeMatte, Robert P. Lennon, Matthew J. Ferrari

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


By fall 2020, students returning to U.S. university campuses were mandated to engage in COVID-19 mitigation behaviors, including masking, which was a relatively novel prevention behavior in the U.S. Masking became a target of university mandates and campaigns, and it became politicized. Critical questions are whether the influences of injunctive norms and response efficacy on one behavior (i.e. masking) spill over to other mitigation behaviors (e.g. hand-washing), and how patterns of mitigation behaviors are associated with clinical outcomes. We conducted a cross-sectional survey of college students who returned to campus (N = 837) to explore these questions, and conducted COVID-19 antibody testing on a subset of participants to identify correlations between behaviors and disease burden. The results showed that college students were more likely to intend to wear face masks as they experienced more positive injunctive norms, liberal political views, stronger response efficacy for masks, and less pessimism. Latent class analysis revealed four mitigation classes: Adherents who intended to wear face masks and engage in the other COVID-19 mitigation behaviors; Hygiene Stewards and Masked Symptom Managers who intended to wear masks but only some other behaviors, and Refusers who intended to engage in no mitigation behaviors. Importantly, the Hygiene Stewards and Refusers had the highest likelihood of positive antibodies; these two classes differed in their masking intentions, but shared very low likelihoods of physical distancing from others and avoiding crowds or mass gatherings. The implications for theories of normative influences on novel behaviors, spillover effects, and future messaging are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2002-2011
Number of pages10
JournalHealth Communication
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Communication


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