‘Us-Versus-Them’: Othering in COVID-19 public health behavior compliance

Lauren Jodi Van Scoy, Bethany Snyder, Erin L. Miller, Olubukola Toyobo, Ashmita Grewal, Giang Ha, Sarah Gillespie, Megha Patel, Aleksandra E. Zgierska, Robert P. Lennon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Objective We explored public perceptions about the COVID-19 pandemic to learn how those attitudes may affect compliance with health behaviors. Methods Participants were Central Pennsylvania adults from diverse backgrounds purposively sampled (based on race, gender, educational attainment, and healthcare worker status) who responded to a mixed methods survey, completed between March 25–31, 2020. Four open-ended questions were analyzed, including: “What worries you most about the COVID-19 pandemic?” We applied a pragmatic, inductive coding process to conduct a qualitative, descriptive content analysis of responses. Results Of the 5,948 respondents, 538 were sampled for this qualitative analysis. Participants were 58% female, 56% with ≥ bachelor’s degree, and 50% from minority racial backgrounds. Qualitative descriptive analysis revealed four themes related to respondents’ health and societal concerns: lack of faith in others; fears of illness or death; frustration at perceived slow societal response; and a desire for transparency in communicating local COVID-19 information. An “us-versus-them” subtext emerged; participants attributed non-compliance with COVID-19 behaviors to other groups, setting themselves apart from those Others. Conclusion Our study uncovered Othering undertones in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, occurring between groups of like-minded individuals with behavioral differences in ‘compliance’ versus ‘non-compliance’ with public health recommendations. Addressing the ‘us-versus-them’ mentality may be important for boosting compliance with recommended health behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0261726
JournalPloS one
Issue number1 1
StatePublished - Jan 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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