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

Legate, N., Nguyen, T.-v., Weinstein, N. ORCID:, Moller, A. and Legault, L. (2022) A global experiment on motivating social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. ISSN 0027-8424

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2111091119


Effectively motivating social distancing—keeping a physical distance from others —has become a global public health priority during the COVID-19 pandemic. This cross-country preregistered experiment (n=25,718 in 89 countries) tested hypotheses derived from self-determination theory concerning generalizable positive and negative outcomes of different motivational messages encouraging social distancing. Participants were randomly assigned to three conditions: an autonomy-supportive message promoting reflective choices, a controlling message that was restrictive and shaming, or no message. Results partially supported experimental hypotheses: the controlling message increased defiance relative to the autonomy-supportive message and increased controlled motivation (which itself correlated with more defiance and less long-term behavioural intentions to engage in social distancing) relative to no message, but messages did not influence behavioural intentions. Despite small experimental effects on defiance and motivation (rs= .07 and .10), this work highlights the potential harm of controlling public health messages and potential benefits of autonomy-supportive ones.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Department of Psychology
ID Code:108743
Publisher:National Academy of Sciences


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