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The outbreak of COVID-19 caused governments and researchers around the globe to follow two main routes in order to address the crisis and reduce effective reproduction numbers of the virus: (1) impose restrictions, closures and emergency regulations, and (2) search for a vaccine and effective medication.

A new study, in which Prof. Dr. Sebastian Goerg, Professor for Economics at the Straubing Campus for Biotechnology and Sustainability and a researcher at the Technical University of Munich was involved, follows a third route that focuses on individuals’ attitudes and the development of health promoting motivations of the public.

The joint study, with researchers from Haifa, Cologne, Poznan and Princeton, shows how attitudes towards health regulations can be improved without imposing constraints – how to achieve enhanced adherence to health regulations without externally imposed coercion. To this aim they combine three elements: (i) Indirect Measurements, (ii) Personalized Interventions, and (iii) Attitude Changing Treatments (IMPACT).

“In our study we use a combination of known psychological effects to improve the subjects’ attitude towards distance and hygiene rules”, describes Prof. Goerg. “We individually focus on the measures that the participant considers least effective to reduce the risk of infection”. One part of the intervention is to ask the participants to think about this measure. Afterwards, they are asked to explain why this measure might be important to reduce the spread of the virus and what consequences non-compliance might have for close relatives. “Without having to explain the measures any further, the participants’ attitude changes and the same measure is perceived as significantly more effective”, summarizes Prof. Goerg.

The process is administered via the internet, allowing participants to respond to an assortment of short and simple tasks by using cell phones or computers. Data collected from over 3,000 participants residing in various countries reveals the efficiency of the method and its capacity to improve COVID-19 health-preserving attitudes.

The researchers propose extending the use of this approach to increase the motivation to follow the measures during the resumption of social and economic activities under the COVID-19 pandemic.

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