Why we follow or don’t follow the Coronavirus rules

Why we follow or don’t follow the Coronavirus rules

In April and May 2020, a joint study of Ranas Ltd., Eawag and ETH asked one thousand people in German speaking Switzerland how often they followed recommendations to reduce the risk of Coronavirus in their everyday behaviour. The study also investigated factors based on the Ranas Model of behaviour change developed at Eawag to better understand people’s behavior.


“Mostly” or “only sometimes”

While 54% follow the recommendations very consistently, 12% indicated that they follow the recommendations “only sometimes” or “seldom”. Among other things, the survey investigated the frequency and thoroughness of hand washing and how consistently people wear a mask and maintain social distancing. Interestingly, psychological motives apparently outweigh other factors. Participants who see themselves as part of a risk group do not follow the behaviour recommendations more frequently than others.


Social norm, confidence in one’s own capacity and positive feelings

Participants who follow the rules believe that others also comply with the rules. In addition, they perceive that there is an expectation on the part of others that they will do so themselves. They behave in line with a social norm. These same participants believe strongly in their capacity to follow the rules and also remind themselves frequently that they want to follow the rules. This means that they have confidence in their own capacity and a good level of self-management. Finally, participants also associate the outcome of following the rules with positive feelings. For example, they feel safe after washing their hands, and are convinced that adherence to the rules will have positive consequences.


What to do with such results?

In our opinion, psychological motives that are very strongly linked to risk-reducing behaviour should be addressed directly in publicity campaigns. Such a campaign should target adherence to behaviour recommendations anchored as a social norm, where individual responsibility for the correct conduct by the majority is emphasised. A message of the power of the individual should be used to counteract the feeling that the protective measures are overwhelming.



This is how our partner, the Sichtbarmacher, transferred psychological messages into a powerful campaign addressing feelings, social norms and self-management:

Why we follow or don’t follow the Coronavirus rules

Stell dir vor – Imagine… the guy in front of you has Corona and you don’t know. And you plan to visit granny the next day…. Keep distance!

Stell dir vor – Imagine…. You are disappointing 5 million people*. * Do you keep distance at all times? According to a study, most people are disappointed when others don’t keep distance.

Die Mechanik
Stell dir vor – Imagine… your best friend washes her hands 5 times a day and you don’t know about it*. * You don’t know? Almost everyone does! 88% of all Swiss wash their hands several times a day, because it helps fight Corona. You can do that, too.
Die Mechanik 2
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