National Identity Predicts Public Health Support During A Global Pandemic

HKUST IEMS Working Papers No. 2021-81

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Jay Van Bavel et al

Changing collective behaviour and supporting non-pharmaceutical interventions is an important component in mitigating virus transmission during a pandemic. In a large international collaboration (Study 1, N = 49,968 across 67 countries), we investigated self-reported factors that associated with people reported adopting public health behaviours (e.g., spatial distancing and stricter hygiene) and endorsed public policy interventions (e.g., closing bars and restaurants) during the early stage of the pandemic (April-May 2020). Respondents who reported identifying more strongly with their nation consistently reported greater engagement in public health behaviours and support for public health policies. Results were similar for representative and non-representative national samples. Study 2 (N = 42 countries) conceptually replicated the central finding using aggregate indices of national identity (obtained using the World Values Survey) and a measure of actual behaviour change during the pandemic (obtained from Google mobility reports). Higher levels of national identification prior to the pandemic predicted lower mobility during the early stage of the pandemic (r = -.40). We discuss the potential implications of links between national identity, leadership, and public health for managing COVID-19 and future pandemics.

About the authors

Jay Van Bavel is an Associate Professor of Psychology and Neural Science at New York University, an affiliate at the Stern School of Business in Management and Organizations, Director of the Social Identity & Morality Lab, and co-author of The Power of Us: Harnessing Our Shared Identities to Improve Performance, Increase Cooperation, and Promote Social HarmonyMore >> 

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