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You're More Likely to Maintain Social Distance If Your Friends Do: Study

FRIDAY, Jan. 22, 2021 -- Family and friends can influence whether people follow social distancing recommendations during the coronavirus pandemic, a new study finds.

British researchers analyzed information from more than 6,600 people in 114 countries. Those who thought their close social circle adhered to distancing guidelines were more likely to do the same, the analysis found.

This influence outweighed whether people personally felt distancing was the right thing to do, according to findings published Jan. 21 in the British Journal of Psychology.

The findings suggest that emphasizing shared values and using the influence of family and friends could get more people to follow COVID-19 safety measures, according to the researchers.

"We saw that people didn't simply follow the rules if they felt vulnerable or were personally convinced. Instead, this uncertain and threatening environment highlighted the crucial role of social influence," said lead author Bahar Tunçgenç, a research fellow in the School of Psychology at the University of Nottingham.

She noted that the most diligent followers of the guidelines were those whose loved ones also followed the rules.

"We also saw that people who were particularly bonded to their country were more likely to stick to lockdown rules -- the country was like family in this way, someone you were willing to stick your neck out for," Tunçgenç said in a journal news release.

Using social media to let family and friends know that you're following COVID-19 safety guidelines could encourage them to do the same, Tunçgenç suggested.

Also, public health messages by trusted people could emphasize collective values, such as doing things for the benefit of loved ones and the community.

Tunçgenç also said that social apps -- similar to social-based exercise apps -- could tell people whether their family or close friends are enrolled for vaccination, which could encourage them to follow suit.

© 2021 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

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