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Publication Detail
Delay discounting and under-valuing of recent information predict poorer adherence to social distancing measures during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Publication Type:
    Journal article
  • Authors:
    Lloyd A, McKay R, Hartman TK, Vincent BT, Murphy J, Gibson-Miller J, Levita L, Bennett K, McBride O, Martinez AP, Stocks TVA, Vallières F, Hyland P, Karatzias T, Butter S, Shevlin M, Bentall RP, Mason L
  • Publication date:
  • Journal:
    Scientific Reports
  • Volume:
  • Article number:
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  • Notes:
    Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about unprecedented global changes in individual and collective behaviour. To reduce the spread of the virus, public health bodies have promoted social distancing measures while attempting to mitigate their mental health consequences. The current study aimed to identify cognitive predictors of social distancing adherence and mental health symptoms, using computational models derived from delay discounting (the preference for smaller, immediate rewards over larger, delayed rewards) and patch foraging (the ability to trade-off between exploiting a known resource and exploring an unknown one). In a representative sample of the UK population (N = 442), we find that steeper delay discounting predicted poorer adherence to social distancing measures and greater sensitivity to reward magnitude during delay discounting predicted higher levels of anxiety symptoms. Furthermore, under-valuing recently sampled information during foraging independently predicted greater violation of lockdown guidance. Our results suggest that those who show greater discounting of delayed rewards struggle to maintain social distancing. Further, those who adapt faster to new information are better equipped to change their behaviour in response to public health measures. These findings can inform interventions that seek to increase compliance with social distancing measures whilst minimising negative repercussions for mental health.
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