Thursday, 21. July 2022

Social distancing: Less defiance through positive communication

“Social distancing” was and still is one of the most important strategies against the spreading of Covid-19. The motivation to maintain contact restrictions is therefore important for the containment of the pandemic. Differently formulated appeals affect willingness for compliance in people.

Over 25 700 people from 89 countries studiedBetween April and September 2020, about 18 000 people received short written online messages. Half of them were exposed to autonomy-supportive messages, the others got controlling messages. The last third of people served as a control group. No text message was sent to them. All subjects had already been exposed to applies for contact restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic. The international research group with Univ.-Prof. Mag. Dr. Stefan Stieger, PD from the Department of Psychological Methodology at the Karl Landsteiner University Krems, hypothesised that autonomy-supportive messages could achieve a greater compliance to recommendations for social distancing. High intention to reduce contactFeelings of defiance as a reaction to the different short written messages varied only little and did not influence the intentions to reduce contact in the study collective. In general, there was a high motivation for contact reduction across all study groups. Autonomy-supportive appeals produced lower feelings of defiance than controlling messages did. Little effect – high impactResults are generalizable across a geographically diverse sample and reveal meaningful effects of communication in real-life health policy issues. Therefore, the findings can inform current and future communication strategies on global health challenges. Original publicationLegate N, Ngyuen T-v, Weinstein N, Moller A, Legault L, Vally Z, et al. A global experiment on motivating social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2022;119(22):e2111091119.