Understanding collective behavior is an important aspect of managing the pandemic response. Here the authors show in a large global study that participants that reported identifying more strongly with their nation reported greater engagement in public health behaviors and support for public health policies in the context of the pandemic.
Changing collective behavior 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 associated with public health behaviors (e.g., spatial distancing and stricter hygiene) and endorsed public policy interventions (e.g., closing bars and restaurants) during the early stage of the COVID-19 pandemic (April-May 2020). Respondents who reported identifying more strongly with their nation consistently reported greater engagement in public health behaviors 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 behavior 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 = -0.40). We discuss the potential implications of links between national identity, leadership, and public health for managing COVID-19 and future pandemics.