Widespread Recommendations Can Change Our Habits of Hand-Washing and Physical Distance During the COVID-19 Pandemic


  • Stefanie C. Biehl Orcid
  • Melissa Schmidmeier
  • Theresa F. Wechsler
  • Leon O. H. Kroczek
  • Andreas Mühlberger


Background: Habits and behaviors in everyday life currently need to be modified as quickly as possible due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Two of the most effective tools to prevent infection seem to be regular and thorough hand-washing and physical distancing during interpersonal interactions. Method: Two hundred and eighty-four participants completed a short survey to investigate how previous habits regarding hand-washing and physical distancing have changed in the general population as a function of the current pandemic and the thereby increased information and constant recommendations regarding these behaviors. Results: Participants aged 51 and older reported a greater change in everyday hand-washing behavior than younger participants. In addition, participants aged 31 and older selected significantly greater distances to have a conversation than younger participants. However, that was not the case if participants had to actively stop their conversational partner from approaching. Conclusion: Participants aged 51 years and older seem to be well aware of their at-risk status during the current pandemic and might therefore be willing to change their behavior more strongly than younger survey participants. Nevertheless, they seem to struggle with enforcing the current rules towards others. The group aged between 31 and 50 years, however, reports a comparable level of fear, but no corresponding change in hand-washing behavior. Future surveys should try to provide more insight into why this might be the case.