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Caring for Loved Ones Motivated Young People to Wear Masks and Wash Their Hands More Often during Pandemic

While fines and punishments had little effect


Researchers from the HSE University in St. Petersburg have found out what motivated young people to comply with the recommended quarantine measures during the pandemic. It turned out that willingness to protect their loved ones had the greatest effect on their behaviour. At the same time, fear of fines for not wearing masks and gloves in public places did not affect behavior in any way. The results of the study were published in the International Journal of Adolescence and Youth.

The study was conducted as part of of the University's Strategic Project 'Social Policy for Sustainable Development and Inclusive Economic Growth' implemented within the ‘Priority 2030’ programme.

The healthcare system faced unprecedented pressures during the coronavirus pandemic. One of the reasons for this was the unwillingness of people to follow quarantine measures. In terms of young people, the situation was particularly difficult, since many did not consider themselves at risk and did not consider it necessary to follow WHO recommendations. At the same time, young people with their heightened social activity are much more mobile compared to other population groups and played a significant role in the spread of the disease.

Researchers from the HSE University in St Petersburg conducted a comprehensive analysis of the factors influencing the motivation of young people to comply with quarantine rules. They have identified three possible factors affecting health-saving behavior:

 assessment of the severity of the disease;

 awareness of your own vulnerability;


At the same time, they identified several types of motivation:

 controlled (imposed from the outside, for example, mandatory wearing of masks in public places);

 focused on protecting yourself;

 aimed at protecting society (prosocial).

The authors separated and analysed two types of prosocial motivation:

 the desire to protect your loved ones;

 the desire to help society as a whole.

The researchers conducted online interviews with more than 1,200 students under the age of 26. Participants had to rate on a scale from 1 to 5 how often over the previous week they had followed the recommendations for the prevention of COVID-19 (wore masks, gloves, washed their hands often, kept social distance, avoided communication with older people, stayed at home). The volunteers were also asked if they knew anyone who has been seriously ill with COVID-19, and how they perceived their own risk of infection. Respondents assessed how important it was for them to protect themselves through these preventive measures, to protect their loved ones, to reduce the rate of the disease spreading, and to formally comply with the current restrictions. The survey was conducted in November 2020, during the second wave of coronavirus, when mass vaccination had not yet begun.

It turned out that the strongest motivation for young people was taking care of their loved ones. It is comparable or even stronger than other types of motivation, including their own safety. The second most popular was the desire to stop the spread of the disease. Controlled motivation did not actually affect regular compliance with preventive measures.

For the first time we analysed simultaneously the influence of many different types of motivation and basic cognitive factors on the behaviour of young people during the pandemic. Moreover, each type of health-saving behavior was evaluated independently of the others.

Martha Anson
Author of the article, graduate of the Bachelor’s Programme ‘Sociology and Social Informatics’, HSE University in St Petersburg

Cases of coronavirus within the participant’s inner circle can affect the perception of the disease’s danger and motivation in different ways. Examples of severe COVID-19 increase the motivation to take preventive measures, while mild cases, on the contrary, weaken awareness of the danger of the disease.

Interestingly, cases of COVID-19 in the inner circle as a whole increase the sense of people’s own vulnerability: people estimated their chances of getting sick as higher. However, the perception of oneself as being at risk is not actually related to behaviour. A more important factor is how this disease is perceived in terms of severity. And this is already influenced by cases of COVID-19 within the person’s inner circle.

Severe cases make the disease look more dangerous in the eyes of young people, and fatal cases directly affect the motivation to protect yourself and others. But the examples of those who had mild symptoms, on the contrary, reduce the perceived threat level. We see that for the formation of motivation and health-saving behavior, personal acquaintance with those who have been ill is important. In the future, it would be interesting to explore this area in more detail and use real patient stories as a preventive tool for different types of diseases.

Ksenia Eritsyan
Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology, HSE University in St Petersburg


October 31, 2023