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How to motivate people to maintain social distancing during pandemic

Social distancing – an international experiment necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic –inspired a global research project on the effectiveness of different ways of motivating people to follow the pandemic safety rules. Researchers from SWPS University’s Institute of Psychology, Marta Roczniewska, Ph.D., Olga Białobrzeska, Ph.D., and Michał Parzuchowski, Ph.D. / Associate Professor were part of the international team.

#COVID-19 #social distancing #effectiveness #motivation #agency

What we researched:

  • The study tested motivational qualities of messages about social distancing.

How we did it:

  • The cross-country, preregistered experiment (n = 25,718 from 89 countries) tested hypotheses concerning generalizable positive and negative outcomes of social distancing messages that promoted personal agency and reflective choices (i.e., an autonomy-supportive message) or were restrictive and shaming (i.e., a controlling message) compared with no message at all.
  • The researchers found out that the autonomy-supportive message decreased feelings of defying social distancing recommendations relative to the controlling message, and the controlling message increased controlled motivation, a less effective form of motivation, relative to no message. Message type did not impact intentions to socially distance, but people’s existing motivations were related to intentions.

Why is it important:

  • The findings from this study were generalizable across a geographically diverse sample and may inform public health communication strategies in this and future global health emergencies.

“This work highlights the potential harm of using shaming and pressuring language in public health communication, with implications for the current and future global health challenges."