Working memory capacity predicts individual differences in social-distancing compliance during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States

Disclaimer: This article was published by the National Academy of Sciences. This article is behind a paywall so I didn’t actually read it in its entirety, but I’m sure it wasn’t meant to disparage the mental capacity of Republicans and/or those citizens that thing President Trump is the Chose One.

This article is classified as science, a category of information that is often disparaged by those suggested in the above study. To be fair and balanced, it should be noted the study included only 850 subjects and the was no mention of regional affiliation.


Noncompliance with social distancing during the early stage of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic poses a great challenge to the public health system. These non-compliance behaviors partly reflect people’s concerns for the inherent costs of social distancing while discounting its public health benefits. We propose that this oversight may be associated with the limitation in one’s mental capacity to simultaneously retain multiple pieces of information in working memory (WM) for rational decision making that leads to social-distancing compliance. We tested this hypothesis in 850 United States residents during the first 2 wk following the presidential declaration of national emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic. We found that participants’ social-distancing compliance at this initial stage could be predicted by individual differences in WM capacity, partly due to increased awareness of benefits over costs of social distancing among higher WM capacity individuals. Critically, the unique contribution of WM capacity to the individual differences in social-distancing compliance could not be explained by other psychological and socioeconomic factors (e.g., moods, personality, education, and income levels). Furthermore, the critical role of WM capacity in social-distancing compliance can be generalized to the compliance with another set of rules for social interactions, namely the fairness norm, in Western cultures. Collectively, our data reveal contributions of a core cognitive process underlying social-distancing compliance during the early stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting a potential cognitive venue for developing strategies to mitigate a public health crisis.

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