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EMAC 2021 Regional Conference

The failure of COVID-19 contact tracing apps: A psychological reactance theoretical perspective

Published: September 22, 2021


Camilla Barbarossa, Toulouse Business School; Michela Patrizi, Sapienza University of Rome; Maria Vernuccio, Sapienza University of Rome; Maria Carmen Di Poce, Sapienza University of Rome; Alberto Pastore, Sapienza University of Rome


COVID-19; contact tracing apps; psychological reactance theory


COVID-19 contact tracing apps can be used to control the propagation of the virus. However, the large-scale implementation of COVID-19 tracing apps requires a deep understanding of individuals’ resistance to adopting such technologies. Using psychological reactance theory, we investigate how and when the perceived threats to freedom following governmental containment measures may trigger aversive states of psychological reactance, which may ultimately motivate one’s resistance to adopting COVID-19 contact tracing apps. The results of 58 in-depth semistructured interviews reveal two psychological mechanisms, i.e., reactance and helplessness, which motivate individuals’ resistance to adopt COVID-19 contact tracing apps, and two psychological mechanisms, i.e., resilience and system justifications, which motivate the adoption of such technologies. The implications for theory and practice are discussed.