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As the COVID-19 pandemic lingers, the possibility of 'pandemic fatigue' has raised worldwide concerns. Here, we examine whether there was a gradual reduction in adherence to protective behaviours against COVID-19 from March through December 2020, as hypothesized in expectations of fatigue. We considered self-report behaviours from representative samples of the populations of 14 countries (N = 238,797), as well as mobility and policy data for 124 countries. Our results show that changes in adherence were empirically meaningful and geographically widespread. While a low-cost and habituating behaviour (mask wearing) exhibited a linear rise in adherence, high-cost and sensitizing behaviours (physical distancing) declined, but this decline decelerated over time, with small rebounds seen in later months. Reductions in adherence to physical distancing showed little difference across societal groups, but were less intense in countries with high interpersonal trust. Alternative underlying mechanisms and policy implications are discussed.

Original publication




Journal article


Nature human behaviour

Publication Date





1145 - 1160


Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.


Humans, Masks, Attitude to Health, Patient Compliance, Trust, Infection Control, Health Policy, Socioeconomic Factors, Self Report, Global Health, COVID-19, Physical Distancing