Facilitators and Barriers to Social Distancing for Young People living in Northern Ireland during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Research output: Working paper

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This qualitative study explores the facilitators of and barriers to social distancing for young people living in Northern Ireland during the COVID-19 pandemic. Qualitative data was collected as part of a larger Qualtrics survey between July 28th 2020 and August 24th 2020. Eligible participants were young people living on the Island of Ireland, aged 16-25 years. The survey design was underpinned by the COM-B model of behaviour change. Semi-inductive thematic analysis was used to analyse comments collected via three free-text survey items. The COM-B model provided a thematic framework to organize subthemes extracted. A total of N=477 young people completed the survey, of which N=352 provided comments for at least one of three free-text survey items. The majority of respondents lived in Northern Ireland (96%), the average age was 21 years, and most respondents were female (73%) and were students (81%). Key barriers identified included Social Opportunity (other people not social distancing), Physical Opportunity (lack of environmental support for social distancing), and Automatic motivation (missing physical interaction from others). Key facilitators included Physical Opportunity (environmental cues and space to support social distancing), Reflective Motivation (awareness and understanding of risk of transmission), and Social Opportunity (observing others’ adhering to guidelines). These findings suggest that the actions of others, environmental supports, and perception of risk have an important role in influencing social distancing behaviour among young people. The COM-B factors identified in this study can inform the development of tailored interventions using models such as the Behaviour Change Wheel.

This paper is a pre-print.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jul 2021


  • COVID-19 guidance
  • Health behaviour change
  • Young People
  • Social distancing


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