Exploring young adults’ unwillingness to adopt COVID-19 contact tracing apps

A mixed-method study


  • 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




Contact tracing apps, Covid-19, psychological reactance, helplessness, consumer behaviour, mixed-method


Purpose of the paper: Drawing on psychological reactance theory, we investigate how and when young adults’ unwillingness to adopt COVID-19 contact tracing apps (CTAs) reflects their focus on government-imposed containment measures and the perceived difficulty in restoring freedom. We also develop empirically based clusters of young adults who differ in terms of their focus on containment measures, the difficulty in restoring freedom, and CTA adoption intentions.

Methodology: We use a mixed-method approach. Through an initial qualitative study featuring in-depth interviews, we explore young adults’ perceptions of government-imposed containment measures and their difficulty in restoring freedom to examine how and when these perceptions reflect reduced CTA adoption intentions. Next, through a quantitative study via survey, we conduct a k-means cluster analysis to identify different groups of young adults.

Findings: The perceived restrictive nature of government-imposed containment measures threatens young adults’ freedom and diminishes their CTA adoption intentions. Moreover, the difficulty in restoring freedom defines when psychological states of reactance (vs. helplessness) occur. Finally, four clusters of young adults emerge: engendered dissidents, apathetic, optimistic adopters, and lost needing guidance.

Research limits: To enhance the generalizability of our results, future research might include consumers of diverse generations to explore age-based differences or use representative samples of diverse country populations to account for cultural variations.

Practical implications: The findings contribute to understanding the failure of CTA adoption among young adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, they offer relevant knowledge to promote CTA adoption if future pandemics occur.

Originality of the paper: In addition to privacy concerns and usability issues as main barriers to CTA adoption, we offer a complementary perspective leveraging psychological reactance.

Author Biographies

Camilla Barbarossa, Toulouse Business School

Camilla Barbarossa

 Associate Professor of Marketing

Toulouse Business School

Department of Marketing

1 Place Alfonse Jourdain

31000, Toulouse




Michela Patrizi, Sapienza University of Rome

Michela Patrizi (corresponding author)

Research Fellow in Management

Sapienza University of Rome

Department of Management

Via del Castro Laurenziano 9

00161, Rome




Maria Vernuccio, Sapienza University of Rome

Maria Vernuccio

Full Professor of Management

Sapienza University of Rome

Department of Management

Via del Castro Laurenziano 9

00161, Rome



Maria Carmen Di Poce, Sapienza University of Rome

Maria Carmen Di Poce

PhD Student in Management

Sapienza University of Rome

Department of Management

Via del Castro Laurenziano 9

00161, Rome




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