Politicized Pandemic Shaped Compliance with Social Distancing

Study: Opposing messages, personal beliefs influenced behavior
Ohio State University
23-Feb-2021 2:40 PM EST, by Ohio State University

Newswise — COLUMBUS, Ohio – Politicization of the COVID-19 pandemic had a powerful influence over adherence to social distancing guidelines in the United States and why people did, or did not, comply during the lockdown days, a new study has found. 

The analysis boiled down to whom study participants trusted most: scientists or President Donald Trump. 

“People who expressed a great deal of faith in President Trump, who thought he was doing an effective job of guiding us through the pandemic, were less likely to socially distance,” said Russell Fazio, senior author of the study and a professor of psychology at The Ohio State University. “In contrast, the people who expressed a great deal of trust in scientists showed the exact opposite pattern: They were more likely to engage in social distancing. 

“We were getting two-sided messages at the time from our government officials and public health scientists, so we had these two sources that were, in effect, working in opposition to one another. That pointed to the politicization of the pandemic.” 

The study is published today (Feb. 24, 2021) in PLOS ONE

Fazio’s lab studies how personal beliefs and attitudes influence behavior. When COVID-19’s emergence in the United States led to lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, the national directive to socially distance became an enormous science experiment. 

“On the basis of everything we’ve known for decades of social psychology, it seemed clear that people’s pre-existing beliefs would affect their interpretations of the seriousness of the pandemic and the extent to which they would comply with these recommendations,” Fazio said. “We thought we needed to directly assess that empirically, find out who was indeed complying or not complying, and get some idea about which beliefs mattered.” 

According to the authors’ theoretical framework, three components were at play when the information campaign began: the source of the message, what kind of challenge the context presented – is the virus really a threat? – and the self-views of the targets, in this case the entire U.S. population. 

The researchers recruited participants from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing marketplace. The sample in this study consisted of 2,001 U.S. adults representing a range of ages, geographical locations and political ideologies. 

The team surveyed the participants in early May about their personal beliefs on a range of issues associated with the pandemic: how much they trusted the sources of information, the extent of their worry about the dangers of the virus, and how concerned they were for others’ vulnerability to getting sick. Did they believe in the value of science, trust the federal government’s handling of the pandemic, weigh economic concerns over public health, consider themselves compassionate? 

“We were interested in the extent to which an individual had a self-view as a compassionate person, because at least part of the reason we were all engaging in social distancing was to protect one another. We were also interested, because of all of the misinformation that was floating around, in people’s general tendency toward conspiratorial thinking,” Fazio said. 

Questions about beliefs and political leanings were combined with a knowledge check: a true-or-false quiz on 13 facts and myths about the coronavirus.

To gauge participants’ social distancing behavior, the researchers presented study participants with 10 virtual behavior scenarios of various public settings – a grocery store, a crowded beach, a crosswalk – and asked them to place themselves or fictional people in those contexts based on their social distancing preferences. Though the researchers also asked participants to self-report their social distancing practices, the virtual scenarios requiring “in the moment” decisions about reactions to different situations were considered more representative of how people actually behaved in real life.

In fact, a recently published study involving follow-up data showed that the more participants demonstrated a preference for social distancing in the virtual scenarios, the less likely they were to have gotten sick with COVID-19 in the subsequent four months – a finding that established the validity of the virtual measures. 

Statistical analyses revealed several correlations. Trust in scientists, support for the guidelines, belief that the virus threat was not exaggerated, concern about its spread, general science literacy and COVID-19 knowledge were strongly associated with the practice of social distancing. Trust and confidence in President Trump and the federal government’s effectiveness, belief in conspiracy theories, a political lean toward conservatism and an opinion that economic health was more important than safety were linked to lower odds of practicing social distancing. 

Fazio said the findings may make one wonder what might have been had the U.S. populace been exposed to more consistent messaging. 

“If there had been a single coherent voice communicating information, leading people to understand how serious the threat was and encouraging all of these preventive behaviors, including social distancing, I think we would have seen far more compliance,” he said. “That is what comes through the data very clearly.” 

This work was supported by the National Science Foundation. Co-authors include Benjamin Ruisch, formerly an Ohio State postdoctoral researcher now at Leiden University, and graduate students currently in Fazio’s lab: Courtney Moore, Javier Granados Samayoa, Shelby Boggs and Jesse Ladanyi.

 

#

 

 

 

 

SEE ORIGINAL STUDY



Filters close

Showing results

110 of 5849
13-Jun-2021 12:05 PM EDT
COVID-19 Pandemic Drinking: Increases Among Women, Black Adults, and People with Children
Research Society on Alcoholism

Risky drinking has been a public health concern in the U.S. for decades, but the significant increase in retail alcohol sales following COVID-19 pandemic stay-at-home orders in particular raised red flags for alcohol researchers. New research has assessed changes in alcohol drinking patterns from before to after the enactment of stay-at-home orders. These results and others will be shared at the 44th annual scientific meeting of the Research Society on Alcoholism (RSA), which will be held virtually this year from the 19th - 23rd of June 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

13-Jun-2021 1:05 PM EDT
The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Alcohol Consumption Is Far From ‘One Size Fits All’
Research Society on Alcoholism

An ongoing analysis of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on alcohol and related outcomes shows that COVID-related stressors experienced by study participants – including work-, financial-, and family-related stressors – are having a varied impact on individuals with and without alcohol use disorders (AUDs). These results will be shared at the 44th annual scientific meeting of the Research Society on Alcoholism (RSA), which will be held virtually this year from the 19th - 23rd of June 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Newswise:Video Embedded newswise-expert-panels-on-covid-19-pandemic-notable-excerpts-quotes-and-videos-available
VIDEO
Released: 18-Jun-2021 2:10 PM EDT
Newswise Expert Panels on COVID-19 Pandemic: Notable excerpts, quotes and videos available
Newswise

Newswise is hosting a series of Expert Panels discussion on unique aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic. This tip sheet includes some notable quotes from the panelists.

access_time Embargo lifts in 2 days
Embargo will expire: 23-Jun-2021 8:00 AM EDT Released to reporters: 18-Jun-2021 11:00 AM EDT

A reporter's PressPass is required to access this story until the embargo expires on 23-Jun-2021 8:00 AM EDT The Newswise PressPass gives verified journalists access to embargoed stories. Please log in to complete a presspass application. If you have not yet registered, please Register. When you fill out the registration form, please identify yourself as a reporter in order to advance to the presspass application form.

Newswise:Video Embedded virtual-event-for-june-17-11am-edt-covid-19-vaccines-and-male-fertility
VIDEO
Released: 18-Jun-2021 8:55 AM EDT
VIDEO AND TRANSCRIPT AVAILABLE: Vaccines and Male Fertility Event for June 17, 2021
Newswise

This upcoming JAMA-published study examined whether the COVID-19 vaccine impacts male fertility.

access_time Embargo lifts in 2 days
Embargo will expire: 22-Jun-2021 11:00 AM EDT Released to reporters: 18-Jun-2021 8:30 AM EDT

A reporter's PressPass is required to access this story until the embargo expires on 22-Jun-2021 11:00 AM EDT The Newswise PressPass gives verified journalists access to embargoed stories. Please log in to complete a presspass application. If you have not yet registered, please Register. When you fill out the registration form, please identify yourself as a reporter in order to advance to the presspass application form.

Released: 18-Jun-2021 7:05 AM EDT
Teamwork saves lives: COVID-19 hospital network shares key findings to improve care
Michigan Medicine - University of Michigan

Data sharing among 40 Michigan hospitals about the care and outcomes for thousands of inpatients with COVID-19 has led to reduced variation and findings that could inform care anywhere, including approaches for preventing blood clots and reducing overuse of antibiotics, as well as a risk prediction tool.

Released: 18-Jun-2021 7:05 AM EDT
One-third of older Americans delayed health care over COVID concerns
Michigan Medicine - University of Michigan

Nearly one in three Americans between the ages of 50 and 80 put off an in-person appointment for medical care in 2020 because they were worried about exposure to the novel coronavirus, new national poll data show.

Released: 17-Jun-2021 4:15 PM EDT
UNC Researchers Lead Study of Diabetes Treatment of COVID-19 Patients
University of North Carolina School of Medicine

Diabetes is one of the comorbidities most strongly associated with severe COVID-19 in the US, and data from early in the pandemic suggested individuals with type 2 diabetes faced twice the risk of death from COVID-19 and a greater risk of requiring hospitalization and intensive care. A new study shows best treatment options.

Released: 17-Jun-2021 4:10 PM EDT
Vaccination, Previous Infection, Protect Against COVID-19 gamma/P.1 Variant in Animal Model
University of Wisconsin-Madison

In a new study using variant virus recovered from one of the original travelers, researchers in the U.S. and Japan have found that vaccination with an mRNA vaccine induces antibody responses that would protect humans from infection with the gamma/P.1 variant.


Showing results

110 of 5849

close
1.37973