Empathy for the vulnerable can make people follow Covid protocols: Study

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on October 14, 2020 Published on October 14, 2020

With greater concern, there is more focus on reducing social contact, the findings suggest

A new study claimed that empathetic people help in preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus by taking extra precautions, especially to protect vulnerable people in risk groups.

The study was published in the journal Psychological Science.

Stefan Pfattheicher, an associate professor at the Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences at Aarhus BSS, Aarhus University, said in an official statement: “We show that empathy for the most vulnerable is an important factor and that it can be used actively to combat the pandemic.”

He added: “I believe that policymakers can use our new knowledge in their efforts to get more people to follow the guidelines — and ultimately save lives.”

People likely to violate Covid-19 protocols due to ‘comparative optimism’: Study

For the study, the researchers initially tested the relationship between participants’ empathy and their attitude to social distancing.

They examined this in two questionnaire-based studies in the US, the UK and Germany.

On a scale from 1 to 5, participants were also asked how concerned they are about those who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus. Subsequently, they were asked about the extent to which they themselves avoid social contact due to the coronavirus.

The findings noted that the higher the degree of empathy, the greater the focus on reducing social contact.

The study also showed that it is possible to induce empathy among people, and thereby also make more people willing to keep social distance and wear face masks.

Stories induce empathy

In two experiments, the researchers tested the differences in participants’ willingness to follow the two recommendations, depending on whether they are just informed about the effect of the two initiatives, or whether they are also presented with a vulnerable person.

The researchers made two cohorts. The first cohort was asked to adhere to Covid-19 protocols by telling them stories of people who have been affected by the virus.

The second cohort was given all the relevant information about the effect of keeping social distance and wearing face masks.

The researchers found that the participants who received the story about people suffering from the coronavirus reported a higher degree of empathy — and also a greater willingness to physically distance and use face masks.

Stefan Pfattheicher added: “Our results suggest that we need stories of real people suffering. It’s not enough just to tell us that we must keep a distance and wear a face mask for the sake of vulnerable citizens in general.”

He further added: “If we're confronted with a specific person who is vulnerable to Covid-19, it is clear that empathy is strengthened, and that we are more likely to follow the guidelines.”

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Published on October 14, 2020
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