An experimental COVID-19 messaging study in a representative sample of the Scottish population : Increasing physical distancing intentions through self-efficacy

den Daas, Chantal and Johnston, Marie and Hubbard, Gill and Dixon, Diane and Cristea, Mioara and Davis, Alive and Dobbie, Fiona and Fitzgerald, Niamh and Fleming, Leanne and Fraquharson, Barbara and Gorely, Trish and Gray, Cindy and Grindle, Mark and Harkess-Murphy, Eileen and Hunt, Kate and Ion, Robin and Kidd, Lisa and Lansdown, Terry and Macaden, Leah and Maltinsky, Wendy and Mercer, Stewart and Murchie, Peter and O'Carroll, Ronan and O'Donnell, Kate and Ozakinci, Gozde and Pitkethly, Amanda and Reid, Kate and Sidhva, Dina and Stead, Martine and Stewart, Mary E. and Tolson, Debbie and Thompson, Catharine Ward and Wyke, Sally (2023) An experimental COVID-19 messaging study in a representative sample of the Scottish population : Increasing physical distancing intentions through self-efficacy. British Journal of Health Psychology, 28 (2). pp. 439-450. ISSN 1359-107X (

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Objectives Self-efficacy is important for adherence to transmission-reducing behaviours (e.g., physical distancing) as also shown in the CHARIS project. We aimed to show that a theory-based short message can increase physical distancing self-efficacy and intentions to keep physical distance. Design Structured telephone surveys with a randomly selected nationally representative sample of adults in Scotland (N = 497). Methods Participants were randomly assigned to one of two experimental conditions: message condition (short message to increase self-efficacy via vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion and emotional arousal) or control condition (no message). Followed by measures for self-efficacy and intention for physical distancing on 4-point scales. Adherence to physical distancing was assessed on a 5-point frequency scale (never – always). Results Using mediation analyses with bootstrapping procedures, we first confirmed that self-efficacy was associated indirectly with adherence, via higher intentions in a partial mediation (unstandardized indirect effect .21, 95% CI .18–.25). The message increased self-efficacy; participants receiving the message reported higher self-efficacy (M = 4.23, SD = .80) compared to participants in the control condition (M = 4.08, SD = .77; standardized regression coefficient = .19, p < .05) and self-efficacy affected intention (.48, p < .001). There was a small significant indirect effect of the message on intention via self-efficacy (unstandardized indirect effect .07, CI .01–.14). Conclusions Increasing self-efficacy for physical distancing with a short message can successfully increase intention to physical distance via increased self-efficacy. As both self-efficacy and intentions are important predictors of adherence to transmission-reducing behaviours short messages have potential to limit the spread of COVID-19.