To tackle the spread of COVID-19, governments worldwide have implemented restrictive public health behavioural measures. Whether and when these measures lead to positive or negative psychological outcomes is still debated. In this study, drawing on a large sample of individuals (N = 89,798) from 45 nations, we investigated whether the stringency of public health measures implemented at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March-May 2020 was associated with individuals' levels of stress and compliance. Moreover, we addressed the question of how these associations may be moderated by the measures' implementation lag, nations' tolerance for unequal distributions of power (i.e., power distance), and individuals' institutional trust. Linear mixed models suggested that slower implementation of less stringent measures was associated with higher stress and lower compliance. Also, rapid implementation of stricter measures was associated with a mild increase in stress. Such effects were especially pronounced in countries with less tolerance for inequality. Albeit significant, the moderating effect of institutional trust was very small. The results suggest that it may be important to consider the measures' implementation lag when tackling the spread of COVID-19, but findings should be interpreted in relation to the data collection period.
- stringency index