COVID rules: Global study reveals stronger hazard avoidance in traditionalists

In a recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers performed a large-scale, observational, cross-cultural survey across 27 nations between October 2020 and July 2021. The results of this survey were aimed to determine the relationship between traditionalism and motivation to mitigate certain dangers, such as those posed by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Study: Greater traditionalism predicts COVID-19 precautionary behaviors across 27 societies. Image Credit: Robert Kneschke / Study: Greater traditionalism predicts COVID-19 precautionary behaviors across 27 societies. Image Credit: Robert Kneschke /


It is crucial to recognize and address the potential conflicts or tradeoffs that might prevent people with a traditional mindset from adopting new and innovative measures to mitigate the hazards posed by dangers, such as a pandemic or even contrasting threats like human conflicts against themselves, their societies, and the global human population. Assessing whether traditional individuals will take corrective action during dangerous situations ranging from a pandemic to climate change is of the utmost importance.

About the study

In the present study, researchers gathered data from multiple societies with diverse cultures. Accordingly, the study population was a combination of student and non-student adult participants over 18 years of age.

The team measured the participants’ education levels based on a universal four-level structure that comprised primary, secondary, undergraduate, and post-graduate levels. The age, gender, income, and other demographic characteristics of the study participants were also noted. Certain covariates relevant to the pandemic, such as whether the participants had pre-existing health issues that increased their risk for severe disease, were also considered.

A 13-item scale was used to measure each participant's COVID-19 health precautions that were subsequently rated on a seven-point scale. The data from this scale helped the researchers assess the participants’ self-reported real-world behaviors that protected them against COVID-19. Adherence to mask-wearing and social distancing was considered an external-facing health precaution while maintaining hand hygiene was considered an internal-facing health precaution.

Seven suppressor variables associated with perceived conflicts between COVID-19 health precautions and other priorities were also included. One example of this type of variable is any concern that the COVID-19 pandemic limited their personal freedom and harmed the economy.

The researchers could not identify a society with culturally neutral traditionalism in the published scientific literature. As a result, two scales that conjointly assessed the perception of traditionalism or the tendency to recommend and practice traditional norms were devised.

These scales were classified as the Aggression-Submission-Conventionalism scale and a subscale derived from the Moral Foundations Questionnaire Short Version.

The first scale measured the generic tendency to inscribe society’s traditional social norms while not specifying their content. Conversely, the second scale assessed whether people generally respected traditions and their gatekeepers according to specific values, such as gender roles.

Items from both scales were analyzed to determine an averaged composite traditionalism variable. These items were subsequently used to for all traditionalism analyses.


At the individual level, a positive correlation between traditionalism and taking COVID-19-related health precautions was identified. This correlation became more consistent when accounting for the effects of suppressor variables, thus suggesting that these associations were detectable in any given cultural context.

When individuals’ considerations of the benefits, costs, and tradeoffs of mitigation measures and other competing priorities are accounted for and adequately considered, this correlation becomes statistically significant.

A marked heterogeneity in effect sizes was observed across examined study sites. This highlights the significant role of parochial and other cultural factors in shaping the relationship between traditionalism and threat avoidance.

Government rules regulated external-facing precautions, which increased their likelihood of being incompatible with traditions. For example, social distancing interfered with traditional religious activities. Accordingly, the relationships between traditionalism and COVID-19 precautions were stronger for internal-facing precautions than external-facing precautions.


The study findings are highly relevant for public health authorities and clinicians as COVID-19 continues to claim thousands of lives every day. Thus, there remains an urgent need to limit the spread of this virus, which necessitates public adherence to certain disease prevention measures.

The study observations suggest that those who adhere to traditional norms, values, and practices could be more hesitant to alter their behaviors and use new medical resources to protect themselves and others from a novel fatal infectious disease like COVID-19. In the current study, when traditionalism and health precautions aligned at the individual or social level, their relationship remained highly robust, further strengthening the notion that traditionalism encourages greater attention to hazards.

Journal reference:
  • Samore, T., Fessler, D. M. T., Sparks, A. M. et al. (2023). Greater traditionalism predicts COVID-19 precautionary behaviors across 27 societies. Scientific Reports 13(4969). doi:10.1038/s41598-023-29655-0
Neha Mathur

Written by

Neha Mathur

Neha is a digital marketing professional based in Gurugram, India. She has a Master’s degree from the University of Rajasthan with a specialization in Biotechnology in 2008. She has experience in pre-clinical research as part of her research project in The Department of Toxicology at the prestigious Central Drug Research Institute (CDRI), Lucknow, India. She also holds a certification in C++ programming.


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