The efficacy of public measures for reducing the transmission of the COVID-19 infection relies on citizens’ voluntary adherence with prescribed actions. Drawing on prior literature about compliant behavior, this study aimed to identify factors associated with people engagement in health-protective behaviors by including a conjoint complement of instrumental/self-oriented, normative/community-based, and affective variables.
A cross-sectional study involving a non-representative sample of 4045 Italian citizens was carried out during the first stage of the pandemic (April–May 2020). Variables associated with health-protective behaviors were perceived personal and societal concerns and perceived effectiveness of the institutional response to the outbreak (instrumental dimensions), and family and friends perceived norms and sense of community responsibility (normative dimensions). Two negative emotions (anxiety and fear) were included as mediators between personal and societal concerns and outcome behaviors.
Results showed the importance of both self-interest and community-based factors. Indeed, self-interest concerns, family perceived norms, and sense of community responsibility were significant predictors of people’s decisions to engage in health-protective behaviors.
The research findings show that compliance with public health prescriptions is a multimodal phenomenon and integrating self-interest and community-based factors can offer a better understanding of people’s decision to engage in health-protective behaviors. Further, this study unveils that a shared sense of community is effective in encouraging adherence to recommended behaviors so as behavioral changes can be sustained by targeting the recommendations not only on risk minimization for oneself but also on the allocation of personal responsibility toward the belonging community.