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Identification with fellow citizens leads to support for measures

7 February 2022
People who identify more strongly with their fellow countrymen are more likely to support the coronavirus measures. This has been demonstrated in a major study into the link between national identity and support for the measures, in which more than 250 scientists in 67 countries participated. On behalf of VU Amsterdam, political scientist André Krouwel and behavioural scientist Jan-Willem van Prooijen participated in the study, which was published in Nature Communications.

"Our study shows that people who feel more connected to fellow countrymen are more compliant with coronavirus measures," said Krouwel. "This shows that sense of belonging is conducive to better compliance by citizens. When people care about each other in a national society, more of them abide by the agreed rules, while polarisation and disinformation are disastrous for compliance. Mind you, this is about patriotism, not nationalism. With nationalism, you actually see a feeling of superiority of the 'own kind' and that breaks down the sense of belonging in a society."

Krouwel: "In short, if people are more 'patriotic' and feel more connected to fellow countrymen, then they comply better. Compliance therefore stems from an altruistic motive, caring about 'fellow countrymen'. This communal, social component is relevant when communicating about the measures."

Support for policy
The researchers first looked at the extent to which respondents indicated that they followed the rules (such as keeping distance) and supported the measures taken (such as closing restaurants), during the early stages of the pandemic, in April and May 2020. Respondents who indicated a stronger identification with their country consistently reported a greater commitment to public health behaviour and support for official policy.

In addition, the researchers compared the results of a previously collected dataset on national identity, the World Values Survey, with a measurement of actual behavioural change during the pandemic, obtained from Google mobility reports. Higher levels of national identification prior to the pandemic predicted lower mobility during the early phase of the pandemic.

These two global studies show that those who identify most strongly with their fellow citizens are also more willing to accept the coronavirus measures and are more compliant with the distance orders. This research shows that policymakers can use this sense of belonging to motivate more people to abide by the rules.

Van Bavel, J.J., Cichocka, A., Capraro, V. et al. National identity predicts public health support during a global pandemic. Nat Commun 13, 517 (2022).

For more information on this publication and to get in touch with AndrĂ© Krouwel and Jan-Willem van Prooijen, contact press officer Ciska Schippers.