This paper describes the development of a brief self-report screening measure of adherence to social distancing and self-protective behaviors in pandemic situations. It provides initial statistical evaluations of correlations between social distancing behaviors and two trait measures (social desirability and trait empathy). Items measures were designed to quantify behaviors recommended by the CDC as primary strategies to prevent and reduce the spread of the COVID-19 infection. An item pool of 29 questions was generated with the aim of estimating the frequency of specific behaviors and were written to avoid confounding the description of behavioral actions with evaluative judgements. Responses were collected from 401 young adults using an anonymous online survey. An Exploratory Factor Analysis was conducted with the purpose of item reduction and subscale development. A 14-item Social Distance Scale (SDS) emerged, consisting of 4-subscales: Isolation from Community (IC), Work from Home (WH), Family Contact (FC), and Protective Behaviors (PB). The initial psychometric evaluation of the scales indicated adequate internal consistency and test-retest reliability. The Social Distance Scale is a promising new instrument which may be applied at the population or individual level. It may be used in conjunction with COVID-19 testing to measure interactions between social distancing factors and transmission. In addition, a reliable screening measure has utility for health service providers to assess patient risk and to provide education/counseling.

A secondary purpose of this research was to examine the relationship between trait empathy and social distancing. A MANCOVA was performed using the four subscales of the SDS v.1 with Empathy Group and Gender Group as fixed factors and the Socially Desirable Response Set (SDRS-5) as a covariate. The SDRS-5 was found to be a significant covariate for both the IC and PB subscales of the SDS v.1 , where higher levels of socially desirable responding lead to higher scores on IC and PB. It was hypothesized that participants high in self-reported trait empathy would demonstrate higher levels of social distancing. Indeed it was found that a significant main effect for Empathy Group emerged, where Empathy Group was significantly related to IC, WH, and PB. In line with expectations, participants in the High Empathy Group scored higher on these three dimensions of social distancing than those in the Low Empathy Group. A significant main effect for Gender Group was obtained for PB. Women were found to be significantly more likely to engage in protective behaviors such as hand washing, mask wearing, and maintaining 6 feet of distance than men.

Thesis Completion




Thesis Chair/Advisor

Cassisi, Jeffrey


Bachelor of Science (B.S.)


College of Sciences





Access Status

Open Access

Release Date