Date of Graduation

Summer 2021


Master of Science in Psychology



Committee Chair

Wayne D. Mitchell


The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about many changes in daily lives around the world. In the United States, face masks and social distancing rules have been suggested and even enforced in areas throughout the country. Compliance with these regulations will in turn, hopefully, reduce transmission and therefore the threat of the COVID-19 virus. Working memory (WM) has been found to be an integral part of the decision-making process, by assessing costs and benefits, both individually and for others. In May 2019, Xie, Campbell, and Zhang (2020) found that WM capabilities were predictive of social distancing compliance. The purpose of this research project was to do a partial replication of Xie et al. (2020) by investigating the predictive validity of WM, perceived benefits over costs, and anxiety on social distancing and face mask compliance. Two hundred-fourteen participants were recruited via Amazon M Turk. Participants completed a visual working memory localization task (VWMLT), a series of questionnaires on demographics, social distancing compliance, face mask compliance, a perceived benefits over costs analysis of compliance, and anxiety. Two hierarchical multiple regression analyses and two tests for mediation were employed to best explain individual differences in compliance behavior. Working memory capacity was found to be a significant predictor of social distancing compliance when accounting for anxiety (b = 0.65, p < .01), but was not for face mask compliance (b = 0.11, p > .05). Perceived benefits over costs did not mediate the relationship between WM capacity and either social distancing or face mask compliance. The results of this project contribute to our understanding of individual differences in cognitive processing and how such differences relate to human behavior considering a global pandemic. Given an understanding of the link between WM and social behavior may then provide a means to further research the connection between the theoretical basis of WM in decision making.


working memory, anxiety, social distancing, face mask compliance, COVID-19

Subject Categories

Psychiatry and Psychology


© Cassandra Jean Kemmel

Open Access