The self-regulation of face touching - a preregistered experiment testing if-then plans as a means to promote COVID-19 prevention

Lucas Keller, Marie Claire Kabengele, Peter M. Gollwitzer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Reducing face touching could help slow COVID-19’s spread. We tested whether implementation intentions, a simple-to-use behaviour change intervention, reduce face-touching behaviour effectively. Design: In this pre-registered online study, we utilised a novel way to collect behavioural data during a pandemic. We obtained video recordings of 156 adults while performing three engaging tasks for four minutes each. After the baseline task, participants formed the goal to avoid touching their faces; some participants also formed implementation intentions, targeting either the frequency or duration of face touching. Main Outcome Measures: The 468 videos were rated by two independent raters for face touching frequency and duration. Results: Face touching was widespread. Compared to the baseline, there was a slight reduction in the frequency of face touching after the experimental manipulations. We observed a significant decrease in the length of face touching only for participants with duration-focused implementation intentions. Conclusion: While implementation intentions have effectively downregulated other unwanted behaviours, they did not reduce the frequency of face-touching behaviour. Still, duration-focused implementation intentions appear to be a promising strategy for face-touching behaviour change. This highlights the need for further optimisation and field research to test the effectiveness of implementation intentions in everyday life contexts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1089-1107
Number of pages19
JournalPsychology and Health
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2023


  • COVID-19
  • Face touching
  • behaviour change
  • motivation
  • self-regulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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