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

Psychological Science Accelerator Self-Determination Theory Coll, A and Machin, Michael A. ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0967-6934 and Machin, Tanya ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-4358-2149 and Martin, Neil I. and Brownlow, Charlotte (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, 119 (22):e2111091119. pp. 1-11. ISSN 0027-8424

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Abstract

Finding communication strategies that effectively motivate social distancing continues to be a global public health priority during the COVID-19 pandemic. This 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. 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.


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Item Type: Article (Commonwealth Reporting Category C)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Current – Faculty of Health, Engineering and Sciences - School of Psychology and Wellbeing (1 Jan 2022 -)
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Current - Faculty of Health, Engineering and Sciences - No Department (1 Jul 2013 -)
Date Deposited: 08 Jun 2022 04:14
Last Modified: 20 Jul 2022 04:12
Uncontrolled Keywords: behavior change; motivation; health communication; COVID-19; self-determination theory
Fields of Research (2020): 52 PSYCHOLOGY > 5204 Cognitive and computational psychology > 520403 Learning, motivation and emotion
Socio-Economic Objectives (2020): 20 HEALTH > 2004 Public health (excl. specific population health) > 200404 Disease distribution and transmission (incl. surveillance and response)
Identification Number or DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2111091119
URI: http://eprints.usq.edu.au/id/eprint/48908

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