Aussies believe they are COVID compliant, but are they?

Most Australians believe they are “extremely diligent” when it comes to following COVID protocols, but believe that others aren’t, according to research.

A survey of almost 1700 people, compiled by the Australian National University (ANU), asked questions about participants’ views of how they’ve responded to COVID health directives.

The results showed that more than 80 per cent of respondents rated their own level of compliance as being higher than those around them.

The survey found WA and NSW residents self-reported their compliance as being lower than the national average and Victoria reported compliance levels higher than the average.

The ANU researchers say the results were expected and reflect a social phenomenon called the “better-than-average” effect.

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“This is our tendency to think that we’re better than others on a whole range of attributes,” says lead author of the survey, Dr Zoe Leviston.

“We think we’re better drivers, we think we’re more intelligent than other people and we also think we’re less biased than others. We expected to see this effect whereby we think we’re better than others when it comes to complying with COVID restrictions.”

Over the past two years, as the pandemic swept through all levels of Australian society, increasingly stringent restrictions were put in place in parts of the country.

In the initial lockdowns of 2020, compliance levels were generally high but when lengthy restrictions again came into force in 2021, compliance levels dropped off in what was described by some as ‘lockdown fatigue’.

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Media focus on high-profile breaches of COVID rules can also fuel the perception that others aren’t following the rules when you are. An over-focus on breach stories and little to no focus on positive compliance stories can also increase this perception.

“People are very conscious of the personal sacrifices they’ve made such as staying home, only going out for essential purposes and wearing a mask at all times, so when we see someone who behaves in a way they shouldn’t, that sticks in our mind,” says Dr Leviston.

“For instance, if you walk through a shopping centre and see 10 people wearing a mask and the eleventh person is not wearing a mask, you tend to ignore the 10 people who are doing the right thing.

“Instead, all of your attention focuses on the one person doing the wrong thing, even though this stranger might have a valid reason for not wearing a mask.”

Read: ‘Super cold’ threatening Australia’s post-lockdown summer

As we get set to enter year three of the pandemic, state and federal leaders remain committed to easing COVID restrictions as much as possible, even if it means accepting higher case numbers.

If people are convinced that nobody else is following the rules as strictly as they are, this can often lead to real world rule breaches. As people no longer feel the need to adhere to the rules if others are not.

“As humans, what we think other people are doing has an influence on our own behaviour over time. If I think nobody else is complying with restrictions, over time I will become resentful that my own efforts are becoming pointless,” Dr Leviston says.

“But there is the possibility that this underestimation of other peoples’ compliance during the pandemic has reduced peoples’ own motivation to comply and that’s something that we obviously want to deter.”

In other words, whether we personally follow COVID guidelines is heavily influenced by what we think others are doing, regardless of that perspective being true or not.

Dr Leviston says it is therefore imperative that government leaders highlight positive compliance efforts in the community.

“If state and territory leaders continue to promote the good work of the vast majority of the public in terms of complying with restrictions, then we can guard against potential compliance fatigue.”

Have you been complying with COVID restrictions this year? Do you think people around you have been following the rules? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Written by Brad Lockyer