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BMC Public Health



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BACKGROUND: Given prior research finding that young adults are less likely to engage in recommended public health behaviors (PHBs) than older adults, understanding who is and is not likely to engage in PHBs among young adults is crucial to mitigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Drawing on the Transactional Theory of Stress and Coping, this study examined how typologies of stress appraisal (SA) and problem-focused coping (PFC) among young adults were associated with compliance with public health recommendations during the pandemic.

METHODS: An online sample of young adults in the United States, ages 18-35, was recruited during the early phase of the pandemic (April-May 2020). Participants reported their appraisals of how central, threatening, and uncontrollable the pandemic was, their tendencies to engage in instrumental, problem-focused coping strategies, and how frequently they engaged in three recommended PHBs (social distancing, mask wearing, and hand washing).

RESULTS: Using latent class analysis, we identified three classes of individuals: Low-SA/Low-PFC, Low-SA/High-PFC, and High-SA/High-PFC. Demographics did not efficiently distinguish membership in the three classes. The former two classes reported less compliance with public health recommendations than did the latter class. Tests of measurement invariance for gender indicated trivial differences in the composition of class membership and relations to compliance.

CONCLUSIONS: This research uncovered three qualitatively distinct classes of people who differed in their appraisal of the pandemic and their tendency to engage in PFC. Individuals who view the pandemic as central and threatening and engage in problem-focused coping were more likely than their peers to comply with guidelines recommending social distancing, mask wearing, and hand washing. These results contribute to our understanding of why people do and do not comply with public health guidelines and highlight the importance of attending to psychological variables in public health research. Understanding what drives poor compliance with public health recommendations can contribute to efforts promoting better compliance, and ultimately better health outcomes.




0000-0002-4082-9505, 0000-0002-3127-3162


© The Author(s) 2022

The present research was funded by an internal grant from the Nova Southeastern University College of Psychology

The present research was approved by the Nova Southeastern University Institutional Review Board. All participants gave informed consent prior to participating, and the research was conducted in accordance with the ethical standards of the American Psychological Association.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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