A global experiment on motivating social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic

Psychological Science Accelerator Self-Determination Theory Collaboration

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Finding communication strategies that effectively motivate social distancing continues to be a global public health priority during the COVID-19 pandemic. This crosscountry, 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. Results partially supported experimental hypotheses in that the controlling message increased controlled motivation (a poorly internalized form of motivation relying on shame, guilt, and fear of social consequences) relative to no message. On the other hand, the autonomy-supportive message lowered feelings of defiance compared with the controlling message, but the controlling message did not differ from receiving no message at all. Unexpectedly, messages did not influence autonomous motivation (a highly internalized form of motivation relying on one's core values) or behavioral intentions. Results supported hypothesized associations between people's existing autonomous and controlled motivations and self-reported behavioral intentions to engage in social distancing. Controlled motivation was associated with more defiance and less long-term behavioral intention to engage in social distancing, whereas autonomous motivation was associated with less defiance and more short- and long-term intentions to social distance. Overall, 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.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2111091119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume119
Issue number22
DOIs
StatePublished - 31 May 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Foundation for Science and Technology (grant agreement ref. UIDP/4950/2020; I. Almeida, A. Ferreira, D. Sousa); PhD grant co-funded by the Portuguese National Foundation for Science and Technology and the European Social Fund (Ref. 2020.08597.BD; A. Ferreira); Horizon 2020 Research Project (European grant agreement ID: 731827, STIPED - Stimulation in Pediatrics - Transcranial brain stimulation as innovative therapy for chronic pediatric neuropsychiatric disorders; D. Sousa); Internal funding from Kingston University (A. Gourdon-Kanhu-kamwe); the Slovak Research and Development Agency under grant contract no. APVV-17-0596 (A. Findor); Pacifica and the Association Nationale Recherche Technologie through CIFRE (Conventions Industrielles de Formation par la Recherche) grant 2017/0245 (A. Bran); Scholarships of the President of Wrocław

Funding Information:
(Wincenty Stys scholarship in the field of humanities and social sciences, 2021/ 2022; Marta Kowal); Special Research Fund of Ghent University grant (COV035-20 BOF; B. Soenens and M. Vansteenkiste); a special grant from the Association for Psychological Science (to the Psychological Science Accelerator); an in-kind purchase from the Leibniz Institute for Psychology (protocol https://www. psycharchives.org/handle/20.500.12034/2631); a fee waiver from Prolific, Inc. Further financial support was provided by the Psychological Science Accelerator. We thank the Leibniz Institute for Psychology (ZPID) for help with data collection via the organization and implementation of semi-representative panels. Funders had no other roles in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

Funding Information:
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. This work was supported by the following sources: European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program, grant agreement No 769595 (F. Verbruggen); Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science JP16H03079, JP17H00875, JP18K12015, and JP20H04581 (Y. Yamada); Research Grant Education University of Hong Kong 28611118 from the Research Grant Council, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China (W. Law); the Japanese Psychological Association, Grant for research and practical activities related to the spread of the novel coronavirus to (T. Ishii; A. Kunisato; N. Sunami; K. Ihaya); Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (# 950-224884; T. Gill); Program FUTURE LEADER of Lorraine Universitéd’Excellence within the program Investissements Avenir (ANR-15-IDEX-04-LUE) operated by the French National Research Agency (S. Massoni); the Portuguese National Foundation for Science and Technology (UID/PSI/03125/2020; R.R. Ribeiro); the Australian Research Council (DP180102384; R.M. Ross); a PhD grant from Fundac¸ão para a Ciência e Tecnologia (PD/BD/150570/2020; R. Oliveira); a French National Research Agency “Investissements d’avenir” program grant (ANR-15-IDEX-02) awarded to H. IJzerman (supporting P.S. Forscher); Vidi Grant 452-17-013 from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (P.M. Isager); the Slovak Research and Development Agency APVV-19-0284 (P. Ka≤cmár, M. Hricová); the Slovak Research and Development (project number APVV-17-0418; P. Babin≤cák); the Portuguese National Foundation for Science and Technology (UID/PSI/03125/ 2020; P. Arriaga); the Huo Family Foundation (N. Johannes); the research grant program “Dipartimenti di Eccellenza” from the Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research (MIUR) to the Department of General Psychology of the University of Padua (N. Cellini; G. Mioni); CAPES (Coordenac¸ão de Aperfeic¸oamento de Pessoal de Ńıvel Superior), number PNPD 3002010037P0 – MEC/CAPES (M.A. Varella); Charles University Research Programme "Progres" Q18 (M. Vranka); Polish National Science Center & Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft Beethoven grant (2016/23/G/HS6/01775; M. Parzuchowski); the Foundation for Polish Science (A. Groyecka-Bernard; M. Misiak); Polish National Science Centre (2020/36/T/HS6/00256; M. Misiak; 2020/36/T/HS6/00254; A. Groyecka-Bernard); Research Grant from Institute of Psychology, Jagiellonian University (M. Kossowska, G. Czarnek, P. Szwed), Slovak Research and Development Agency APVV-18-0140 (M. Marton≤cik); the Slovak Research and Development Agency under grant contract no. APVV-17-0596 (M. Hru≤ska); Slovak Research and Development Agency APVV-20-0319 (M. Adamkovi≤c); NSF #1734815 - NRT-UtB: "Graduate Training Program in Sensory Science: Optimizing the Information Available for Mind and Brain", grant from NSF to University of Minnesota (M. Manavalan); Rubicon Grant (019.183SG.007) from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (K. van Schie); the National Science Centre, Poland (grant no: UMO-2019/35/B/HS6/00528; K. Barzykowski); National Agency of Research and Development Millennium Science Initiative /Millennium Institute for Research on Depression and Personality-MIDAP ICS13_005 FONDECYT 1191708 (J.R. Silva); Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation (2016:0229; J.K. Olofsson); the Slovak Research and Development Agency APVV-15-0662 (J.Benka); the Sherwin Early Career Professor in the Rock Ethics Institute (J.A. Soto); Penn State's Office of the Senior Faculty Mentor (J.A. Soto); German National Academic Foundation (J. Berkessel); the Scientific Grant Agency of the Slovak Republic under the grant No. VEGA 1/0748/19 (J. Bavolar); Chair for Public Trust in Health, Grenoble Ecole de Management (I. Ziano); PRIMUS/20/HUM/ 009 (I. Ropovik); Tufts University (H. Urry); the National Institute of Mental Health T32MN018931 (H. Moshontz); APVV-17-0418 (G. Banik); J. William Fulbright Program (F. Azevedo); the Innovational Research Incentives Scheme Veni from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research—Division for the Social Sciences 451-15-028 (E.S. Smit); Amazon Web Services Imagine Grant (E.M. Buchanan); the Basic Research Program at HSE University, RF (D. Grigor-yev); the Basic Research Program at HSE University, RF (D. Dubrov), the Basic Research Program at HSE University, RF (E. Agadullina). Contract no. APVV-18-0140 ; the Research Council of Norway 288083, 223273 (C.K. Tamnes); the South-Eastern Norway Regional Health Authority 2019069, 2021070, 500189 (C.K. Tamnes); the South-Eastern Norway Regional Health Authority grant no. 2020023 (A. Askelund); EFOP-3.6.1.-16-2016-00004, ÚNKP-21-4 and NKFIH “OTKA” PD-137588 by the National Research, Development and Innovation Fund (A.N. Zsido); Faculty Development Grant from Dominican University (A. Krafnick & R. Calin-Jageman); Portuguese National Foundation for Science and Technology SFRH/BD/126304/2016 (A.C. Santos); the statutory funds of the University of Wroclaw (A. Sorokowska); CIBIT - Coimbra Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Translational Research funding by the Portuguese National

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

Keywords

  • behavior change
  • COVID-19
  • health communication
  • motivation
  • self-determination theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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