A large-scale international project that included data from 67 countries and approximately 50,000 people found that individuals who identified with their nation more strongly engaged in COVID-19 public health behaviors and supported COVID-related public health policies to a greater extent. This research was published in Nature Communications.
Since October 2021, the COVID-19 virus has infected over 235 million people worldwide. When vaccines were not readily available, non-pharmaceutical interventions such as behavior change (e.g., social distancing, handwashing) helped mitigate the spread of the virus. Some evidence suggests that “a shared sense of solidarity” increased compliance with public health measures.
In this work, Jay J. Van Bavel and collaborators investigated the role of national identity and other possible social motives in collective health efforts throughout the pandemic.
Study 1 included 49,968 participants; the average age was 43, and all continents except Antarctica were represented in the recruited sample. All participating research teams were asked to collect data from at least 500 participants. In randomized order, participants completed various psychological measures and reported their engagement in public health behaviors. The primary predictor included two items assessing national identity and the secondary predictor included three items assessing national narcissism.
Participants provided ratings on a scale of 0 (strongly disagree) to 10 (strongly agree). The third predictor was one item on political ideology, with response options ranging from 0 (extremely liberal/left-leaning) to 10 (extremely conservative/right-leaning). The researchers included three measures of public health support [e.g., During the days of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic… I have been staying at home as much as practically possible; I have been in favour of closing all schools and universities].
Study 2 included data from publicly available datasets, including the World Values Survey and the COVID-19 Google Community Mobility Reports. While the survey included items assessing national pride and closeness to one’s nation, the mobility reports provided data on movement throughout one’s community (e.g., grocery stores, parks). A total of 42 countries were included in the second study.
The researchers found that national identity was associated with support for and engagement in public health behaviors worldwide. Public health support was operationalized as physical distancing and physical hygiene, support for policy interventions, and reduction in physical movement during the pandemic. This pattern emerged in self-report measures at the individual level, and actual mobility at the country level.
While national identity and national narcissism were positively associated with support for public health measures, right-wing political ideology had a negative correlation with this outcome. The authors write, “This suggests that a collective identity might be associated with valuing the protection of the entire group during a pandemic, even after adjusting for their ideological differences.”
The authors also note that the association between national identity and public health support are distinct from national narcissism. National narcissism was associated with physical hygiene and support for COVID-19 preventative policies, but this was a smaller effect compared to national identity, and was also context-dependent.
With regard to study limitations, the researchers highlight that this work is correlational and was conducted at the beginning of the pandemic. Thus, causal claims cannot be made, maintaining the possibility that public health behaviors caused national identity, or perhaps, that both were caused by a third factor. As well, it could be that this pattern does not apply to the later stages of the pandemic or future pandemics.
The authors conclude, “Our large-scale studies suggest that identification with one’s nation is positively associated with support for and engagement in critical behavioral public health measures. Understanding the role of social identity appears to be an important issue when addressing public health crises.”
The study, “National identity predicts public health support during a global pandemic”, was authored by Jay J. Van Bavel, Aleksandra Cichocka, Valerio Capraro, Hallgeir Sjåstad, John B. Nezlek, Tomislav Pavlović, Mark Alfano, Michele J. Gelfand, Flavio Azevedo, Michèle D. Birtel, Aleksandra Cislak, Patricia L. Lockwood, Robert Malcolm Ross, Koen Abts, Elena Agadullina, John Jamir Benzon Aruta, Sahba Nomvula Besharati, Alexander Bor, Becky L. Choma, Charles David Crabtree, William A. Cunningham, Koustav De, Waqas Ejaz, Christian T. Elbaek, Andrej Findor, Daniel Flichtentrei, Renata Franc, Biljana Gjoneska, June Gruber, Estrella Gualda, Yusaku Horiuchi, Toan Luu Duc Huynh, Agustin Ibanez, Mostak Ahamed Imran, Jacob Israelashvili, Katarzyna Jasko, Jaroslaw Kantorowicz, Elena Kantorowicz-Reznichenko, André Krouwel, Michael Laakasuo, Claus Lamm, Caroline Leygue, Ming-Jen Lin, Mohammad Sabbir Mansoor, Antoine Marie, Lewend Mayiwar, Honorata Mazepus, Cillian McHugh, John Paul Minda, Panagiotis Mitkidis, Andreas Olsson, Tobias Otterbring, Dominic J. Packer, Anat Perry, Michael Bang Petersen, Arathy Puthillam, Julián C. Riaño-Moreno, Tobias Rothmund, Hernando Santamaría-García, Petra C. Schmid, Drozdstoy Stoyanov, Shruti Tewari, Bojan Todosijević, Manos Tsakiris, Hans H. Tung, Radu G. Umbreș, Edmunds Vanags, Madalina Vlasceanu, Andrew Vonasch, Meltem Yucel, Yucheng Zhang, Mohcine Abad, Eli Adler, Narin Akrawi, Hamza Alaoui Mdarhri, Hanane Amara, David M. Amodio, Benedict G. Antazo, Matthew Apps, F. Ceren Ay, Mouhamadou Hady Ba, Sergio Barbosa, Brock Bastian, Anton Berg, Maria P. Bernal-Zárate, Michael Bernstein, Michał Białek, Ennio Bilancini, Natalia Bogatyreva, Leonardo Boncinelli, Jonathan E. Booth, Sylvie Borau, Ondrej Buchel, C. Daryl Cameron, Chrissie F. Carvalho, Tatiana Celadin, Chiara Cerami, Hom Nath Chalise, Xiaojun Cheng, Luca Cian, Kate Cockcroft, Jane Conway, Mateo Andres Córdoba-Delgado, Chiara Crespi, Marie Crouzevialle, Jo Cutler, Marzena Cypryańska, Justyna Dabrowska, Michael A. Daniels, Victoria H. Davis, Pamala N. Dayley, Sylvain Delouvee, Ognjan Denkovski, Guillaume Dezecache, Nathan A. Dhaliwal, Alelie B. Diato, Roberto Di Paolo, Marianna Drosinou, Uwe Dulleck, Jānis Ekmanis, Arhan S. Ertan, Tom W. Etienne, Hapsa Hossain Farhana, Fahima Farkhari, Harry Farmer, Ali Fenwick, Kristijan Fidanovski, Terry Flew, Shona Fraser, Raymond Boadi Frempong, Jonathan A. Fugelsang, Jessica Gale, E. Begoña Garcia-Navarro, Prasad Garladinne, Oussama Ghajjou, Theofilos Gkinopoulos, Kurt Gray, Siobhán M. Griffin, Bjarki Gronfeldt, Mert Gümren, Ranju Lama Gurung, Eran Halperin, Elizabeth Harris, Volo Herzon, Matej Hruška, Guanxiong Huang, Matthias F. C. Hudecek, Ozan Isler, Simon Jangard, Frederik J. Jørgensen, Frank Kachanoff, John Kahn, Apsara Katuwal Dangol, Oleksandra Keudel, Lina Koppel, Mika Koverola, Emily Kubin, Anton Kunnari, Yordan Kutiyski, Oscar Laguna, Josh Leota, Eva Lermer, Jonathan Levy, Neil Levy, Chunyun Li, Elizabeth U. Long, Chiara Longoni, Marina Maglić, Darragh McCashin, Alexander L. Metcalf, Igor Mikloušić, Soulaimane El Mimouni, Asako Miura, Juliana Molina-Paredes, César Monroy-Fonseca, Elena Morales-Marente, David Moreau, Rafał Muda, Annalisa Myer, Kyle Nash, Tarik Nesh-Nash, Jonas P. Nitschke, Matthew S. Nurse, Yohsuke Ohtsubo, Victoria Oldemburgo de Mello, Cathal O’Madagain, Michal Onderco, M. Soledad Palacios-Galvez, Jussi Palomäki, Yafeng Pan, Zsófia Papp, Philip Pärnamets, Mariola Paruzel-Czachura, Zoran Pavlović, César Payán-Gómez, Silva Perander, Michael Mark Pitman, Rajib Prasad, Joanna Pyrkosz-Pacyna, Steve Rathje, Ali Raza, Gabriel G. Rêgo, Kasey Rhee, Claire E. Robertson, Iván Rodríguez-Pascual, Teemu Saikkonen, Octavio Salvador-Ginez, Waldir M. Sampaio, Gaia C. Santi, Natalia Santiago-Tovar, David Savage, Julian A. Scheffer, Philipp Schönegger, David T. Schultner, Enid M. Schutte, Andy Scott, Madhavi Sharma, Pujan Sharma, Ahmed Skali, David Stadelmann, Clara Alexandra Stafford, Dragan Stanojević, Anna Stefaniak, Anni Sternisko, Agustin Stoica, Kristina K. Stoyanova, Brent Strickland, Jukka Sundvall, Jeffrey P. Thomas, Gustav Tinghög, Benno Torgler, Iris J. Traast, Raffaele Tucciarelli, Michael Tyrala, Nick D. Ungson, Mete S. Uysal, Paul A. M. Van Lange, Jan-Willem van Prooijen, Dirk van Rooy, Daniel Västfjäll, Peter Verkoeijen, Joana B. Vieira, Christian von Sikorski, Alexander Cameron Walker, Jennifer Watermeyer, Erik Wetter, Ashley Whillans, Robin Willardt, Michael J. A. Wohl, Adrian Dominik Wójcik, Kaidi Wu, Yuki Yamada, Onurcan Yilmaz, Kumar Yogeeswaran, Carolin-Theresa Ziemer, Rolf A. Zwaan & Paulo S. Boggio