Trust predicts COVID-19 prescribed and discretionary behavioral intentions in 23 countries

Stefano Pagliaro, Simona Sacchi, Maria Giuseppina Pacilli, Marco Brambilla, Francesca Lionetti, Karim Bettache, Mauro Bianchi, Marco Biella, Virginie Bonnot, Mihaela Boza, Fabrizio Butera, Suzan Ceylan-Batur, Kristy Chong, Tatiana Chopova, Charlie R Crimston, Belén Álvarez, Isabel Cuadrado, Naomi Ellemers, Magdalena Formanowicz, Verena GraupmannTheofilos Gkinopoulos, Evelyn Hye Kyung Jeong, Inga Jasinskaja-Lahti, Jolanda Jetten, Kabir Muhib Bin, Yanhui Mao, Christine McCoy, Farah Mehnaz, Anca Minescu, David Sirlopú, Andrej Simić, Giovanni Travaglino, Ayse K Uskul, Cinzia Zanetti, Anna Zinn, Elena Zubieta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The worldwide spread of a new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) since December 2019 has posed a severe threat to individuals' well-being. While the world at large is waiting that the released vaccines immunize most citizens, public health experts suggest that, in the meantime, it is only through behavior change that the spread of COVID-19 can be controlled. Importantly, the required behaviors are aimed not only at safeguarding one's own health. Instead, individuals are asked to adapt their behaviors to protect the community at large. This raises the question of which social concerns and moral principles make people willing to do so. We considered in 23 countries (N = 6948) individuals' willingness to engage in prescribed and discretionary behaviors, as well as country-level and individual-level factors that might drive such behavioral intentions. Results from multilevel multiple regressions, with country as the nesting variable, showed that publicized number of infections were not significantly related to individual intentions to comply with the prescribed measures and intentions to engage in discretionary prosocial behaviors. Instead, psychological differences in terms of trust in government, citizens, and in particular toward science predicted individuals' behavioral intentions across countries. The more people endorsed moral principles of fairness and care (vs. loyalty and authority), the more they were inclined to report trust in science, which, in turn, statistically predicted prescribed and discretionary behavioral intentions. Results have implications for the type of intervention and public communication strategies that should be most effective to induce the behavioral changes that are needed to control the COVID-19 outbreak.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0248334
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalPLoS One
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021


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