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

Chantal den Daas, Marie Johnston, Gill Hubbard, Diane Dixon

Research output: Working paper/PreprintPreprint


Background: Self-efficacy is important for adherence to transmission-reducing behaviours (e.g., physical distancing) as also shown in the [blinded] project. We aimed to show that a theory-based short message can increase physical distancing self-efficacy and intentions to physical distancing. Methods: Structured telephone surveys with a randomly selected nationally representative sample of adults in Scotland (N = 497). 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 0.18-0.25). The message increased self-efficacy; participants receiving the message reported higher self-efficacy (M = 4.23, SD = 0.80) compared to participants in the control condition (M = 4.08, SD = 0.77; standardised 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 0.01-0.14). 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.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - 18 Mar 2022


  • Covid-19
  • self-efficacy
  • intentions
  • adherence
  • physical distancing
  • messaging

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