This psychological trick could cause people to follow the rules of Covid-19


One of the most frustrating parts to experience a pandemic is knowing that people are not adhering to Covid-19 guidelines and safety recommendations – such as wearing a mask in indoor public spaces and getting vaccinated – when research shows such behavior curbs fatal disease.

With such a stake – as of September 21, there were over 200 million infections and 4 million deaths – an urgent question has emerged: how can the “anti-makers” and “anti-vaccines” be convinced to follow expert advice? These are individuals who ideologically reject the idea that Covid-19 is a serious threat and refuse to mask, vaccinate, or socially distance themselves for ideological reasons.

However, while hardliners may be the loudest on social media, there is a much larger group of people who fall into a less rigid category. These are the “hesitant” – people who do not think Covid-19 is a hoax but, for various reasons, did not follow these precautions.

For example, a recent study facilitated by the USC Center for Economic and Social Research found that while 83% of adults in the United States “view wearing a mask as an effective way to protect themselves from COVID-19, their mask-wearing behavior is very inconsistent, even if they engage in high-risk activities.

But researchers at Princeton University believe they have found a way to convince this population.

They conducted experiments to see what would persuade people in this gray area to change their behavior and consistently follow Covid-19 safety protocols. The results of this study, published Tuesday in the journal Basic and applied social psychology, suggest that behavior can change if you practice two actions:

  • Induce cognitive dissonance by asking someone to advocate for an action
  • Ask them to remember when they did not follow up on this action

Lead author Logan Pearce, a Ph.D. candidate, recounts Reverse his team used “the hypocrisy paradigm to induce hypocrisy. “Induced hypocrisy may seem pejorative at first, but in psychology it’s a statement rather than a judgment,” she explains. “Induced hypocrisy works by making people stand up for the importance of certain behaviors and remember times when they didn’t follow that behavior.”

What you need to know first – The notion of cognitive dissonance is central to the experience: in which a person has two conflicting beliefs in their mind at the same time.

Previous research from Princeton’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology suggests that cognitive dissonance may be part of an effective strategy to change attitudes toward Covid-19 mitigation measures. Participants were invited to:

  • Rank Covid-19 mitigation strategies from most effective to least effective in preventing the spread of the virus
  • Estimate the percentage of people who would contract Covid-19 if the practice was followed or not
A masked passenger walks among unmasked passengers on the London Underground. Getty Images

Participants then read expert testimonials explaining why the mitigation measures they believed were not working. were in fact effective.

Afterwards, participants were asked to write a paragraph explaining how the measures worked and why they were effective. Finally, the researchers again asked participants to estimate the percentage of people who would contract Covid-19 whether or not they followed the measures. This metric was compared to their initial estimates.

At the end of the survey, “most of the participants were more confident in the preventive measures that they initially considered to be ineffective”.

Peace and Joel Cooper, a psychology professor at Princeton, sought to build on this type of research by creating cognitive dissonance and then adding another crucial element: mindfulness.

What did they do- Pearce and Cooper recruited 101 volunteers to complete their surveys. The volunteers came from 18 different countries, ranging from 18 to 67 years old.

In a group of volunteers, the researchers established cognitive dissonance encouraging them to advocate for a specific Covid-19 mitigation directive (for example: “Masks are important in slowing the spread of Covid-19”), then asking the volunteer to remember when he did not follow this specific directive.

This combined the two key elements:

Visitors to the French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana are asked to wear a mask before heading inside. Sean Gardner / Getty Images

The researchers also had three control groups, all of which were to watch a short video encouraging measures such as masking and social distancing.

  • The first control group was the advocacy group: participants were invited to advocate for specific Covid-19 mitigation behavior
  • The second check was a “mindfulness”Group: participants were asked to recall a time when they did not follow prevention guidelines, but did not advocate for the importance of mitigation measures
  • The third group was a strict control group: they were or aware nor defended a post but watched the video

A week later, all participants reported how, if anything, their behavior had changed from the week before the study.

What was discovered – A week later, the results in the cognitive-attention dissonance group were remarkable. The majority of this group reported complying with most safety measures (mean: 51.58).

“… humans have a natural desire to reduce voltage. “

The Mindfulness group reported 21.63, the Advocacy group reported 21.71, and the Control group was 27.64.

Pearce was particularly surprised by the figures from the mindfulness group, which expressed Following negative intentions to follow Covid-19 guidelines and less willingness to lead others to a Covid-19 resource.

“These attendees remembered times when they failed to follow safety precautions, but they did not advocate the importance of following them,” she says. “We hypothesize that the participants changed the way they perceived themselves – that they were the type of person who did not follow guidelines consistently.”

Reports of positive behaviors according to COVID-19 guidelines (logarithmic values). via Pearce, Cooper.

How it can be used— Pearce says this paradigm can be helpful in getting people to change their behavior, but it’s crucial to approach it from a constructive, not a critical, perspective. It is also useful to do this in a “naturalistic” setting.

For example, “you can strike up an informal conversation with someone who you know believes in the guidelines of Covid-19 but who doesn’t routinely do so,” she says.

“During this conversation, you might bring up recent trends around the coronavirus and express how terrible the situation is, causing this person to agree with you on the importance of following the guidelines,” says Pearce. “Then you can point them out when you noticed that they weren’t following a directive. “

Whichever approach you take, the combination of advocacy and mindfulness is essential, says Pearce.

What this means for the future— This paradigm is not limited to Covid-19 protocols. It reveals something bigger about human behavior.

“The advocacy-mindfulness combination is so powerful because it inspires people to think about their own behavior,” says Pearce. “The gap between saying what they believe about Covid and remembering that they didn’t follow through creates a state of psychological tension. ”

“Advocacy in itself – saying it’s important to do something – doesn’t create tension,” she says.

Pierce says this strategy could be used to change other behaviors that people are resistant to, as long as they believe in the behavior they are adopting. not to do is something they should do, like exercise.

“This study reveals that humans have a natural desire to reduce psychological stress,” says Pearce. “Dissonance creates a feeling of discomfort, forcing people to change their behavior so that they no longer feel disturbed.”

Abstract: There is an urgent need to persuade the public to follow behavioral guidelines in order to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Using cognitive dissonance as a guide, the goal of the present study was to increase compliance with coronavirus safety measures, such as social distancing, wearing masks, and vaccinations. During Phase 1, participants experienced a dissonance in advocating for consistent adherence to safety protocols and remembering instances when they did not follow them. Their attitudes and behavioral intentions were measured. A week later, we evaluated the reported behavior. We found that participants in dissonance complied more with guidelines and were more likely to be vaccinated than participants in three control conditions without dissonance. We conclude by recommending ways to implement the results in the current COVID-19 crisis.


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