Self‑Centred, Older Males Are More Likely to Defy Covid19 Restrictions, Research Suggests
The efficacy of public health messaging generally depends on various ideologies, gender, cognitive abilities. But among those who have demonstrated an unwillingness to comply with Covid19 social distancing guidelines, older males who are extroverts and more likely to focus on their own self-interests account for the majority, according to new research.
The study looked at behavioral compliance during the pandemic. Published in PLOS One last week, the researchers looked at 1,575 participants across Australia, U.S., U.K., and Canada and analyzed their attitudes, personality, resilience, adaptability, political and cultural factors, and information consumption.
This is among the first research to utilise a people-centric approach, rather than only analyzing the efficacy of health campaigns. The findings offer a glimpse into the characteristics of people who continue to resist Covid-friendly behavior and explores two interesting nuggets: the gendered impact of public health campaigns and how messaging can be tailored for people who disassociate from social obligations.
Based on the survey, the researchers divided participants into two groups: the “compliers” and “non-compliers.” The compliant group, which formed 90% of the participants, “reported greater worries, and perceived protective measures as effective,” the study noted.
On the other hand, the non-compliant group, who accounted for the remaining 10%, “were lower on agreeableness and cultural tightness-looseness, but more extraverted, and reactant.” They were more likely to leave home out of boredom, for religious reasons, to meet friends, or just because they thought restrictions defied their right to freedom.
“10% is a huge number in the context of a pandemic,” Sabina Kleitman, associate professor at the University of Sydney and lead author of the study, told The Guardian. The researchers noted “compliance with protective behaviors is paramount in containing the Covid19 pandemic and allowing people to return to their everyday activities under the new ‘Covid normal.'”
Of the 10% who refused to follow restrictions, older males stood out. Previous research has shown that men are less likely to comply with Covid19 health policies and even find masks shameful. “The biggest differences between men and women relate to behaviors that serve to protect others above all, such as coughing in the elbow, unlike those that can protect both themselves and others,” a 2020 study published in PNAS noted.
Another thing that made people in the non-compliant group stand out was that these “rule breakers” were less likely to check the legitimacy of information, they didn’t trust official sources, they had a lower measure of “intellect.” And most importantly, they did not believe in the idea of prioritizing others’ health over theirs, thus, the general air of laxity.
“It is an interesting picture emerging,” Kleitman said.
While the data in the current study includes behavioral patterns from Covid19 first wave, complacency to the pandemic has only increased due to fatigue. Other studies have also shown the waning alertness to Covid19.
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The current findings are important to understand the intention-behavior gap during virus outbreaks, and alter public health messaging accordingly.
“I think we need to channel that self-interest back,” Kleitman told The Guardian, arguing that since people who don’t comply dismiss any moral obligations to public health, targeted messaging that frames them at the center will be critical, rather than “than appealing to social obligations and the need to protect others.”
“Maybe the message to them should be how it benefits them: you’re not going to infect yourself and your loved ones. It’s not only good for society, exercising your moral responsibility, it’s good for you.”
What might also help, researchers say, is to impart awareness about identifying misinformation or using digital platforms to direct messaging. “Future studies should determine whether the dissemination of official and reliable information in accessible form (e.g., memes, short messages and videos) via a variety of news outlets, including casual (e.g., social media), may increase rates of compliance in the non-compliant group,” researchers noted.
This is because people who are generally non-compliant struggle to find new ways of adapting to the “Covid normal,” so information about how to cope could help. Moreover, rule breakers tended to be more in denial with the reality and engage in substance use.
“Public education and the promotion of adaptive coping strategies may thus help to enhance compliance with protective measure,” the study concluded.