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People’s Values Affect Their Attitudes to COVID-19 Restrictions

People’s Values Affect Their Attitudes to COVID-19 Restrictions

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HSE social and political analysts have established which value models and circumstances promote support for restrictive government policies aimed at combatting the coronavirus pandemic. The research is published in Plos One.

The World Health Organization (WHO) launched the international ‘Stay home. Save lives’ media campaign early in the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizing that people themselves can pose a risk to others, including strangers. The WHO called for people to protect others from getting sick, encouraging the mindset that we are all responsible for other peoples’ lives. The effectiveness of this strategy is one of the main topics examined in the HSE research.

A team of HSE researchers (Kirill Chmel, Aigul Klimova, and Nikita Savin) investigated which of two strategies in the Russian public’s behaviour—protect yourself or take care of others—is more effective for the government in combatting the pandemic. The researchers conducted two online experiments involving 2,200 respondents. The 2х2 factorial design covered two main factors: COVID-19 risks (relatively high vs relatively low) and the object at risk (individual losses vs losses to others). The researchers provided the respondents with different descriptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, then analyzed the changes in the respondents’ willingness to forfeit their rights and support restrictive measures (including the introduction of criminal liability for violation of these measures). 

The experiments helped the researchers to determine the significance of people’s personal values. People who share prosocial values and recognize the importance of safeguarding other peoples’ welfare rather than just their own appear to be more receptive to information highlighting the risks posed to others.

Kirill Chmel, Junior Research Fellow of the Ronald F. Inglehart Laboratory for Comparative Social Research

‘Therefore, calls to wear masks and observe social distancing for the sake of others’ safety only strike a chord with people who have prosocial values. Conversely, those who do not share such values focus on the personal threats and risks posed by COVID-19.’

Moreover, the research revealed that framing COVID-19 as a high risk significantly increased support for anti-COVID measures, which, in the researchers’ opinion, could promote support for anti-democratic policies across the globe. 

Daily reports on the number of deaths and new infections result in a considerable overestimation of the mortality risk posed by the novel coronavirus. For instance, the researchers found that respondents estimated the mortality risk of COVID-19 to be 35% on average—at least ten times higher than the actual death rate at the time of the survey. 

Nikita Savin, Associate Professor of the School of Integrated Communications

‘Such distorted estimates make people more willing to forfeit their rights and freedoms in the name of safety. This creates the threat of widespread support for autocratic policies that political forces in many countries could take advantage of. Moreover, disproportionately high estimations of the COVID-19 mortality risk undermine citizens’ trust in their government’s ability to fight the pandemic.’

The authors of the article call for researchers and authorities to pay attention to risk communication and its influence on citizens’ behaviour during the pandemic.

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