What would be better for everyone at risk of respiratory distress from COVID-19 is understanding why and how avoiding social contact and regular hand washing will help. Government can mandate things but we may be getting less adherence to guidelines because it is top-down rules, and in the case of some politicians hypocrisy after issuing them, rather than personal commitment.
Can so-called self-determination theory help? Obviously it is not a theory in the scientific sense, nothing in social psychology is, but regardless of the brand name, if it can provide communication principles to foster voluntary compliance in a crisis, ideas are welcome.
The 13 principles of communication are distilled from papers stating that supporting autonomy is essential to getting people to voluntarily commit to guidelines. The communication principles developed within the theory have been shown to provide tangible health-related outcomes in, for example, diabetes prevention, smoking cessation and long-term medication adherence.
The communication guidelines are structured around how they support the three human psychological needs: autonomy (a sense of volition and self-endorsement), competence (a sense of effectiveness and mastery), and relatedness (a sense of mutual care and interpersonal connection). In particular, experts and decision-makers should make sure that their way of communication doesn't awaken defiance. While many of the guidelines have not been directly tested in policy communication contexts, they are based on currently available evidence from other domains and, as such, likely to have positive effects on motivation
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