Five Experimental Tests of the Effects of Short Messages on Compliance with COVID-19 Public Health Guidelines

Pink, Sophia L., Michael Stagnaro, James Chu, Joe Mernyk, Jan G. Voelkel, and Robb Willer

PsyArXiv Preprint

Preventing the spread of COVID-19 requires persuading the vast majority of the public to significantly change their behavior innumerous,costly ways. However, it is unclear which persuasive strategies are most effectiveatconvincing people who are not fully compliant to take recommended actions, such as wearing a mask and staying home more often. In five studies (N = 5,351) conducted from March-July 2020, we evaluated 56 short messages aimed at convincing people to comply with public health guidelines. In two within-subjects studies, participants rated the persuasiveness of many short messagesdrawn from both past research on persuasionand original crowdsourcing. In three pre-registered, between-subjects experiments, we tested whether the four top-ratedmessages from the previous studies ledpeople who werenot fully compliant to increase their intentions to comply. We do not find consistent effects of any message, though a message emphasizing civic responsibility to reciprocate healthcare workers’ sacrifices performed best in three of five studies. Overall, these findings suggest that short messages are largely ineffective in increasing compliance with public health guidelines during advanced stages of the pandemic.