Background: Social distancing is a key behavior to minimize Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infections. Since the change of behavior is the only way to prevent this pandemic, this study aimed to predict the social distancing behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic using protection motivation theory (PMT).
Methods: This cross-sectional study was conducted through a convenience sampling method on 796 individuals over 15 years old from urban and rural areas of different cities in Iran during 2020. The data were collected online using demographic characteristics form, PMT and social distancing behaviors questionnaires. Afterward, the obtained data were analyzed in SPSS software (version 16) through linear correlation coefficient and hierarchical regression tests.
Results: The Mean±SD score of social distancing behaviors was obtained at 4.42±0.31. The results of the hierarchical linear regression model showed that after adjusting the effect of socio-demographic variables, self-efficacy (Beta=0.238, P<0.001) was the strongest predictor of social distancing behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by intention (Beta=0.233, P<0.001) and perceived severity (Beta=0.083, P=0.028). PMT constructs and intention was able to predict 40% of social distancing behaviors in total.
Conclusions: In the prevalence of infectious diseases, individuals differ in adherence to social distancing behaviors. The PMT was a useful framework for prediction social distancing behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, this theory can be used as a framework in designing educational programs to increase self-efficacy and encourage individuals to observe social distancing behaviors as a result.
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