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15 December 2020

Behaviour experts recommend praise to encourage compliance with Covid-19 guidelines

People are more willing to adhere to Covid-19 restrictions if they are praised for their efforts and told why guidelines are changing, according to behavioural science experts from Sheffield Hallam University

Press contact: Greg Mattocks-Evans | j.beattie@shu.ac.uk

Two women sat on benches 2 metres apart

Academics from the University’s Centre for Behavioural Science and Applied Psychology (CeBSAP) are working with Sheffield City Council to help inform their public messaging and encourage people to follow Covid-19 restrictions.

They have held a series of focus groups with people from across the city to find out their views on the Covid-19 guidelines and their adherence to them.

Changing guidelines

The sessions have focused on the changing guidelines and people’s views on preventative behaviours including social distancing, self-isolating and testing, the extent to which they are following them and why. 

A session was held this week to discuss behaviours and messaging around the government’s Christmas guidelines. Further focus groups will take place in the New Year to examine the impact the new Covid-19 vaccines could have on people’s behaviour and willingness to be vaccinated.

Observations and recommendations from the focus groups have helped to shape some of the council’s messaging around the Covid-19 guidelines.

'People should be praised and thanked for their efforts'


Professor Madelynne Arden, Director of CeBSAP at Sheffield Hallam University, has led the work with Sheffield City Council and has also worked on national initiatives including writing guidelines for the British Psychological Society.

Professor Arden said: “It is vital that we understand how people are receiving the central messages from government around the Covid-19 guidelines and their behaviour in response to them. People need to feel they are receiving information from trusted sources, that we are all working together to keep our communities safe and that their individual behaviour is making a difference.

“We have recommended that people should be praised and thanked for their efforts and given feedback on the difference it’s making. This has a huge impact on people’s willingness to adhere to the rules.

“Consistency of messaging is really important, which is challenging when rules are changing regularly. It is also vital to let people know why the rules have changed and not just what they have changed to.”

Greg Fell, Director of Public Health at Sheffield City Council, said: “The behavioural insights from Sheffield Hallam University have been invaluable in how we frame our communications.

“This research has helped us develop a more tailored approach to how we communicate with the people of Sheffield, and to consider what else we need to do to support people so they can follow the guidelines, such as additional support for self-isolation.”

Professor Arden will also appear at a Westminster Health Forum on Thursday 17 December looking at the next steps for the NHS test and trace system. The discussion will involve policy makers and senior figures including the head of the NHS test and trace, Dido Harding.




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