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Coronavirus, COVID-19, Social distancing, Survey experiment
The COVID-19 pandemic is a major challenge facing societies around the world. Citizen engagement in “social distancing” is a key containment measure for curtailing the spread of the virus. But what kind of information should governments use for encouraging social distancing compliance? Using data from a pre-registered survey experiment among US residents (n = 1,502), we examine how five distinct COVID-19 information cues—which each appeal to prosocial motivation and empathy in varying degree—affect people’s willingness to social distance. We find no significant differences across experimental conditions in terms of (a) the duration that respondents are willing to maintain social distancing, (b) intended social distancing behavior, or (c) COVID-19-related attitudes and beliefs. Our findings should not necessarily discourage decision-makers from priming prosocial motivation and empathy as means for promoting social distancing, but they do suggest a current need for more engaging medium than simple textual messages for such appeals.