Interview: PhD student initiates global study on the impact of COVID-19 measures

How do people respond to the measures that countries are taking to combat COVID-19? And what impacts their compliance with said measures? To answer these questions, Erasmus University Rotterdam initiated a research project to study people’s behaviour and perception towards governments’ approaches on a global scale. Researchers from twelve universities worldwide have been working together on this study. Gaining insight into the determinants of compliance is important, as the success of government measures in times of crisis depends on people complying with them. The aim of the study is to improve understanding of behaviour during a crisis and advance the development of adequate strategies for the future. 

Annelot Wismans, PhD student at Erasmus School of Economics, is one of the initiators of the study. She explains how it started as well as her experience conducting research for the project: 

Can you tell us a little bit about how this research project came into place? 

At the time we were instructed to work from home, I was looking for a new study for my PhD One of the things that was most important to me was that it had to be relevant to society. When the new measures related to the coronavirus were just announced there was one thing that fascinated me: the huge difference in how seriously individual people took the measures. While some fanatically started washing their hands and avoided going outside, others were still throwing parties. I decided to dive into what causes the difference in individual compliance behaviour with measures between people. Given the current situation, the topic could not get any more relevant than that. After brainstorming with my supervisors, we came up with the current research project.

What is the goal of the research project?

The research project has various goals. Amongst others we will study the relationship between several personality traits and compliance with measures related to the coronavirus. Furthermore, we will study the effect of the perceived risk of the virus and whether people have an optimistic bias regarding their risk of getting infected.

Since measures that governments have taken in response to the outbreak differ substantially across countries, we study the behavior of students in multiple countries. In collaboration with many international colleagues we have collected data from eleven countries: Belgium, Colombia, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden. By comparing the results across countries, we will be able to study if there are big differences in outcomes in for example countries that have been more severely impacted by the coronavirus and where stronger measures are in place.

The success of the approach of governments is totally dependent on the compliance of the population with the prescribed measures. Therefore, gaining more insight into the determinants of compliance is very important.

How are you experiencing the project so far? 

Although we have just started, it has been a great experience so far. Being able to conduct a multidisciplinary, international study on a relevant and urgent topic is - I think - a dream for all PhD students. What also stands out most is the enthusiasm of everyone involved: our international contacts, our faculty, and the students. We were overwhelmed by the interest and involvement of our international colleagues to collaborate on this project and collect data in their countries.  Moreover, the response to the online questionnaire has been enormous. At the moment we have collected over 7,400 responses in 11 countries. We cannot wait to see the outcomes of the analyses.

What can we expect from the results?

Soon we will start analysing the data. A first look at the data showed us that students across countries have answered in a surprisingly uniform way, especially the degree to which students comply with measures is similar. The perceived strictness of the measures in countries follows the expected directions, with Italy scoring highest and the Netherlands and Sweden scoring lowest. Larger differences are evident for the perceived degree of regulation in each country, how long students think they are able to continue to follow the current measures, the use of face masks, and the willingness to download a COVID-19 monitoring app. A more in-depth analysis will soon give us more information on the relationships within and between countries. During this process we are working in close collaboration with Professor Karl Wennberg and Dr. Srebrenka Letina from Linköping University, Sweden.

What are the next steps for you? 

The next step will be to start with the data analysis and to write a paper on the outcomes. We want to do it as quickly as possible, so the results can be shared and used to improve the strategy development for the current pandemic and also for future crisis situations.

About Annelot Wismans

Annelot Wismans is currently a PhD candidate at Erasmus School of Economics. She is also part of the Erasmus University Rotterdam Institute for Behavior and Biology (EURIBEB) where topics at the intersection of economics, psychology, and medicine are studied. Annelot works together with Professor Roy Thurik of Erasmus School of Economics and Professor Ingmar Franken of the Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences. She has obtained Bachelor’s degrees in Psychology and Business Administration (Leiden University and Rotterdam School of Management, respectively) and a Master’s degree in Behavioural Economics at Erasmus School of Economics.  

More information

For more information, please contact Ronald de Groot, Media & Public Relations Officer at Erasmus School of Economics: rdegroot@ese.eur.nl, +31 6 53 641 846.