Udayavni Special

People more likely to follow COVID rules when friends and family do, study says

Team Udayavani, Jan 23, 2021, 12:00 PM IST

London: People are more likely to follow COVID-19 restrictions based on what their friends do, rather than their own principles, according to a study that shows how social influence affects adherence to government interventions.

The researchers, including those from the University of Nottingham in the UK, found that the best predictor of people’s compliance to the rules was how much their close circle complied with the rules, which had an even stronger effect than people’s own approval of the rules.

The study, published in British Journal of Psychology, suggests that including experts in human and social behaviour is crucial when planning the next stages of the pandemic response, such as how to ensure that people comply with extended lockdowns or vaccination recommendations.

“When coronavirus first hit the UK in March, I was struck by how differently the leaders in Europe and Asia were responding to the pandemic,” said lead researcher Bahar Tuncgenc from the University.

“While the West emphasised ‘each person doing the right thing’, pandemic strategies in countries like Singapore, China and South Korea focussed on moving the collective together as a single unit,” Tuncgenc said.

The researchers asked people from over 100 countries how much they, and their close social circle, approved of and followed the COVID-19 rules currently in place in their area.

They found that people didn’t simply follow the rules if they felt vulnerable or were personally convinced, adding that most diligent followers of the guidelines were those whose friends and family also followed the rules.

Close circle’s compliance had an even stronger effect than people’s own approval of the rules, the researchers said.

This discovery applied to all age groups, genders, countries, and was independent of the severity of the pandemic and strength of restrictions.

The study also revealed that people who were particularly bonded to their country were more likely to stick to lockdown rules — the country was like family in this way, someone for whom one is willing to stick their neck out.

“We see scientists and politicians trying to boost the public’s approval of the measures, so that vaccination campaigns and lockdowns get the support of the citizens, but approval does not mean compliance,” said Ophelia Deroy, a professor at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Germany.

“You may make up your own mind about the measures, or listen to experts, but eventually, what you do depends on what your close friends do” Deroy said.

“Practical steps could include social apps, similar to social-based exercise apps, which tell people whether their close friends are enrolled for the vaccine.

“Using social media to demonstrate to your friends that you are following the rules, rather than expressing outrage at people who aren’t following them could also be a more impactful approach,” Tuncgenc added.

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