NUI Galway global Covid-19 study finds strong link between health messaging and behaviour

Oct 05 2020 Posted: 11:25 IST

Researchers recommend to NPHET that communications emphasise positive outcomes of adherence to guidelines

 Research from NUI Galway as part of a global study of attitudes towards Covid-19 public health guidelines shows that threats of arrest, fines or quarantine do not help encourage people to behave in line with the advice.

The International Covid-19 Awareness and Responses Evaluation (iCARE) research is being carried out in collaboration with the Montreal Behavioural Medicine Centre (MBMC) in Canada to understand the socio-demographic, behavioural and economic determinants of adherence to physical distancing guidance.

Wave 5 of the iCARE survey is currently underway. To find out more and to take part visit

Data from the study is being fed back to the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) Subgroup on Behavioural Change, which is advising the Government on its communications strategy.

Dr Hannah Durand, iCARE collaborator and behavioural science researcher at NUI Galway said: “The research is yielding tangible and useful results as it helps to provide data-driven recommendations to governments on how to optimise policy and communication strategies.

“After half a year of observing physical distancing, working remotely and wearing masks, one of the starkest warnings from the research is that we have evidence that a fatigue is setting in.

“Tellingly, people are consistently reporting the best motivator of adherence to physical distancing and other preventive measures is receiving feedback on how their behaviour is slowing the spread of the disease and saving lives. It suggests that behaviour may be changed by highlighting signs of success.

“We have also seen a surprising twist in how campaigns are received by the public. Threats of arrest, fines or quarantine do not appear to be helpful. Likewise, messages about the negative consequences of ignoring health recommendations - like an elderly relative will get sick and die - were found to be less effective than those that emphasised positive outcomes.

“This needs to be reflected in the ways we communicate with the public to bring about change in behaviour.”

Some of the key findings of the iCARE study to date include –

:: The vast majority of people are doing the right things, such as following government and health authority directives designed to limit the spread of the virus. Of all prevention measures, wearing a mask had the poorest adherence (49%).

:: Respondents say they are following safety measures less rigorously now than they did in March.

:: Just over 16% of people who tested positive for Covid-19 or suspect they have the virus have reported not self-isolating.

:: Most people reported they are adhering to physical distancing guidelines, specifically staying two metres away from others (84%) and avoiding large gatherings (90%), most of the time.

:: Adherence to hand hygiene guidelines (89%) and good coughing etiquette (86%) was also high.

:: The top concern for people was that a relative who they do not live with would be infected with Covid-19 - eight in ten were somewhat or greatly concerned about this.

:: More than half of the people surveyed (58%) were somewhat or greatly concerned about being isolated.

Dr Simon Bacon, co-lead of the iCARE study, said: “The research is showing that it tends to be men more often than women, usually in their 20s and early 30s who are not following the isolation measures in full. There are several explanations for this, including greater risk-taking propensity among young men. However, we must acknowledge that young people are more likely to work in low-paid, public-facing jobs that make it difficult to adhere to restrictions. They are a key group of people we need to re-engage with.”

NUI Galway iCARE collaborator Dr Durand added: “Based on the results so far we believe targeted messaging is key to getting populations to follow public health guidelines. Government-sponsored efforts at encouraging adherence must be customised to the group they are designed to reach.”

Dr Kim Lavoie, co-lead of the iCARE study, said: “A one-size fits all message does not seem to be reaching everyone. Some are motivated by health concerns, others by economic and social concerns. The trick is figuring out what message will resonate with whom and tailoring accordingly.”


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