Promoting Social Distancing in a Pandemic: Beyond the Good Intentions

Reminders to promote social distancing have been ubiquitous throughout the COVID – 19 crisis , but little is known about their effectiveness . Existing studies find positive impacts on intentions to comply , but no evidence exists of actual behaviour al change .

The authors conducted a randomized controlled trial with a large representative sample of Danish residents who received different versions of a reminder to stay home as much as possible at the height of the crisis .

They found that the reminder significantly increases people’s intentions to stay home when it emphasises the consequences of non Рcompliance for the respondent or his/her family, while it has not impact when the emphasis is on other people or the country as a whole. Changes in intentions, however, translate into weaker changes in actions that are not statistically significant.

This is consistent with the existence of important intention-to-action gaps. Only people who are in relatively poor health are significantly more likely to stay home after receiving the reminder with an emphasis on personal and family risks . This shows that while reminders may be useful to protect groups at risk by increasing their own compliance with social distancing , such a tool is unable to change the behavior of those who face limited personal risks but could spread the disease .

Last modified: May 21, 2020

Language: English