An experimental COVID-19 messaging study in a representative sample of the Scottish population: increasing physical distancing intentions through self-efficacy

Chantal den Daas*, Marie Johnston, Gill Hubbard, Diane Dixon, Mioara Cristea, Alive Davis, Fiona Dobbie, Niamh Fitzgerald, Leanne Fleming, Barbara Fraquharson, Trish Gorely, Cindy Gray, Mark Grindle, Eileen HarkessMurphy, Kate Hunt, Robin Ion, Lisa Kidd, Terry Lansdown, Leah Macaden, Wendy MaltinskyStewart Mercer, Peter Murchie, Ronan O'Carroll, Kate O'Donnell, Gozde Ozakinci, Amanda Pitkethly, Kate Reid, Dina Sidhva, Martine Stead, Mary E. Stewart, Debbie Tolson, Catharine Ward Thompson, Sally Wyke

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
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Objectives: Self-efficacy is important for adherence to transmission-reducing behaviours (e.g., physical distancing) as also shown in the CHARIS project. We aimed to show that a theory-based short message can increase physical distancing self-efficacy and intentions to keep physical distance. 

Design: Structured telephone surveys with a randomly selected nationally representative sample of adults in Scotland (N = 497). 

Methods: Participants were randomly assigned to one of two experimental conditions: message condition (short message to increase self-efficacy via vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion and emotional arousal) or control condition (no message). Followed by measures for self-efficacy and intention for physical distancing on 4-point scales. Adherence to physical distancing was assessed on a 5-point frequency scale (never – always). 

Results: Using mediation analyses with bootstrapping procedures, we first confirmed that self-efficacy was associated indirectly with adherence, via higher intentions in a partial mediation (unstandardized indirect effect.21, 95% CI.18–.25). The message increased self-efficacy; participants receiving the message reported higher self-efficacy (M = 4.23, SD =.80) compared to participants in the control condition (M = 4.08, SD =.77; standardized regression coefficient =.19, p <.05) and self-efficacy affected intention (.48, p <.001). There was a small significant indirect effect of the message on intention via self-efficacy (unstandardized indirect effect.07, CI.01–.14). 

Conclusions: Increasing self-efficacy for physical distancing with a short message can successfully increase intention to physical distance via increased self-efficacy. As both self-efficacy and intentions are important predictors of adherence to transmission-reducing behaviours short messages have potential to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)439-450
Number of pages12
JournalBritish Journal of Health Psychology
Issue number2
Early online date1 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2023


  • adherence
  • COVID-19
  • intentions
  • messaging
  • physical distancing
  • self-efficacy


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