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In scientific research we (should) trust: Expectations and also compliance across nine nations during the COVID-19 pandemic
In scientific research we (should) trust: Expectations and also compliance throughout nine nations during the COVID-19 pandemic Cristina Bicchieri, Enrique Fatas, Abraham Aldama, Andrés Casas, Ishwari Deshpande, Mariagiulia Lauro, Cristina Parilli, Max Spohn, Paula Pereira, Ruiling Wen





The magnitude and nature the the COVID-19 pandemic prevents public wellness policies from relying ~ above coercive enforcement. Practicing society distancing, attract masks and also staying at house becomes voluntary and conditional on the actions of others. We current the outcomes of a massive survey experiment in nine countries with representative samples of the population. We discover that both empirical expectation (what rather do) and normative expectation (what others give of) play a far-ranging role in compliance, beyond the impact of any type of other separation, personal, instance or team characteristic. In our vignette experiment, respondents advice the likelihood of compliance through social distancing and staying at home of someone similar to castle in a hypothetical scenario. As soon as empirical and normative expectation of people are high, respondents’ review of the vignette’s character’s compliance likelihood goes increase by 55% (relative come the low expectations condition). Similar results are derived when looking in ~ self-reported compliance among those with high expectations. Our outcomes are moderated through individuals’ trust in government and trust in science. Holding expectations high, the impact of trusting science is considerable and significant in our vignette experiment (22% rise in compliance likelihood), and also even bigger in self-reported compliance (76% and 127% boost before and also after the lockdown). By contrast, trusting the federal government only generates usually effects. In ~ the accumulation level, the country-level to trust in science, and also not in government, becomes a solid predictor the compliance.

Citation: Bicchieri C, Fatas E, Aldama A, Casas A, Deshpande I, Lauro M, et al. (2021) In scientific research we (should) trust: Expectations and also compliance across nine nations during the COVID-19 pandemic. ONE 16(6): e0252892. Https://

Editor: Valerio Capraro, Middlesex University, unified KINGDOM

Received: December 9, 2020; Accepted: May 25, 2021; Published: June 4, 2021

Data Availability: The data basic this study are obtainable on OSF (DOI 10.17605/OSF.IO/SCAXN).

Funding: The author(s) received no details funding for this work.

Competing interests: The authors have asserted that no completing interests exist.


The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in by the novel coronavirus SARS-COV-2 has actually led numerous countries come implement strict steps to limit the spread out of the condition <1>. Supported by both governments and also scientists, these steps go indigenous voluntary social distancing and mask wearing come mandatory stay-at-home policies <2, 3>. Given the scale of the pandemic, the effectiveness of these steps relies on people’s voluntary compliance, as governments cannot coercively force them. Governments’ success relies on your legitimacy; the swiftness of their response; how their interaction strategy successfully combines rational, moral, and emotional appeals; and also their volume to leverage people’s cognitive biases to successfully influence their actions <4–14>. Spontaneous participation of millions of individuals represents a non-trivial, massive social dilemma, in which individuals may not sufficiently think about the optimistic externality the compliance. Teamwork in huge scale social dilemmas like this one is greatly influenced through the expectations of individuals around the behavior of others <15–17>, and also the appearance of social norms supporting compliant habits might substantially increase people’s willingness come comply <18, 19>. Specifically, people’s belief about how rather in your reference group are behaving, your empirical expectations, and also their beliefs around what others think is the right thing come do, their normative expectations, can influence their habits <19, 20>.

In this paper, we analyze just how empirical and normative expectations form voluntary compliance by feather at just how individuals problem their actions to the behavior and also normative views of others in a inspection experiment operation in several countries. More specifically, our inspection experiment was run in nine countries in Asia, Europe and the Americas, differentially influenced by the pandemic: China, Colombia, Germany, Italy, Mexico, southern Korea, Spain, the unified Kingdom, and also the United claims of America. Our research contributes to a growing social scientific literary works on the determinants of compliance with behavioral policies set in place to curb the spread of COVID-19. Ahead research has studied, for example, the affect of different messaging methods <9–14>, partisanship and ideology <21, 22>, intended duration the the policies <23>, and misinformation <24> on people’s willingness come comply v the public health and wellness measures designed come curb the spread of the an illness (for a evaluation see <25>). In particular, our research study contributes come a farming literature the emphasizes the function of norms in determining actions during the pandemic. This literature relies largely on correlations between perceived norms and self-reported willingness to comply v preventive actions <26–29> (though watch <10>). Generally, the literary works finds a optimistic correlation in between compliance with preventive behaviors and the belief that rather comply and also approve of compliance (though watch <26>). Surveys, however, can be topic to a desirability bias, particularly when the inquiries are about behavior that is perceived as affect the welfare of society at large. We thus add an experiment in which we present respondents through a vignette explicate a hypothetical situation in which we manipulate both the degree at which others comply v the public wellness measures and the level at i beg your pardon others believe people have to comply v the measures, in a 2x2 factorial design. Us randomly entrust participants to various conditions, varying empirical and normative expectations around compliance. We existing someone comparable to the respondent as the protagonist the the vignette, around whom the participant has to assess the likelihood of compliance. Vignettes are necessary for number of reasons. First, as soon as the concerns being asked are socially sensitive, a theoretical scenario provides an unthreatening and impersonal way for exploring respondents’ beliefs around a sensitive topic <30, 31>. Second, our theoretical scenario applies to someone similar to the respondent but not the respondent themselves. One reason is that, because that some world it is difficult to imagine us in hypothetical or counterfactual situations, due to the fact that this calls for the capability to assume together true claims that may conflict with what is embraced as true. Lack of such capacity may lead one to deny that the suggested scenario is possible <20>. Moreover, a society desirability predisposition might still be at work if the vignette protagonist is still the responder. Finally, vignettes make use of speculative manipulations to come at causal knowledge <32>. By varying the empirical and normative expectation of the vignette’s character, we desire to assess whether the guess target actions is affected by social expectations. If expectations space causally relevant, the preference to communicate in the target behavior will it is in conditional on the social expectations entertained through the agent. In this case, respondents will predict different habits (compliance through the rules) depending on the society expectations of the fictitious personality <20>. Vignettes also allow us to measure the relative affect of different social expectations, a useful piece of details when we shot to enact behavioral adjust <33>.

As a robustness check for the internal validity of the vignette experiment, us compare the speculative outcomes (likelihood the compliance of the vignette character v public health and wellness guidelines) with self-reported compliance, both before and also after strict enforcement policies are applied in each nation (e.g. A lockdown). To do so, we assess individuals’ self-reported level of compliance before and after confinement plans were applied in your countries, as well as their empirical and also normative expectation (again, before and also after the lockdown).

Our results strongly imply that raising both empirical and also normative expectations has actually a substantial and far-ranging impact on people’s willingness to practice social distancing and staying at home. In the inspection experiment, the vignette character’s likelihood the compliance through practicing social distancing and also willingness to remain at residence increases by more than 50%. As soon as only empirical or normative expectations space high (but no both, as in our ‘incongruent’ expectations conditions) there is only a modest rise in compliance likelihood. What space the mechanisms behind this effect? The efficiency of policies fostering voluntary compliance crucially relies on just how individuals perceive this policies and also their inside rationale. Institutions trusted by human being are commonly seen as an ext credible sources of empirical and normative details <34>. The multidimensional nature the the pandemic may require not just trust in the certified dealer (e.g. A government firm delivering a compliance message), but also trust in the messenger giving its underlying logic (e.g. The scientific rationale because that confinement, wearing masks, or social distancing). The uncertainty produced by contagious outbreaks <35> to represent a serious challenge to any kind of policy fostering voluntary compliance, as beyond the level of to trust in the certified dealer (e.g. The government) recipients of any type of message must also be persuaded by the trustworthiness of the messenger (e.g. Epidemiologists, virologists, scientists in general) <36>. Unfortunately, due to the fact that the pandemic started, the messages of scientists and also the message of federal governments have not always been consistent <37>.

We hypothesize that the degree to which world practice social distancing and stay at house depends on viewed social norms (as characterized by the joint impact of empirical and also normative expectations). However, we acknowledge that compliance could be at some point driven by your trust in the institutions and people that promote or ago up compliant behaviors. In other words, we are interested in discovering whether empirical and normative expectations impact people’s willingness come comply through social distancing and also staying at house policies, but also whether to trust in scientists and government center this relationship <7, 36, 38>. In particular, us theorize the if people do no trust the institutions that promote public health behaviors, the result of social standards on compliance with the actions may it is in dampened. Once both expectations and also trust in establishments that promote behaviors to alleviate the spread of COVID-19 room low, human being may evaluate the danger of contagion as particularly low. However, once expectations are high, human being that perform not to trust these institutions may still it is in tempted to free ride if they believe other people are complying.

Thus, we explore how the individual level of trust in different institutions and also groups shape compliance, and interact with high empirical and also normative expectations. Us specifically emphasis on 2 groups: government and also science. The logic behind this focus is straightforward. The lack of trust in federal government may reduced the credibility of federal government policies and generate short compliance through public health guidelines <39, 40>. The absence of to trust in science might actually decrease the expected efficiency of public health policies. Because that example, in the US, ~ lockdown plans were implemented an additional 5 percent of people stayed home in counties with above median id in anthropogenic climate change compared come those with listed below median id in climate change as measured v cell call mobility data <38>. Given the often-confusing messages in the direction of the validity that scientific evidence sent by governments during the COVID-19 pandemic, we find the evaluation of this trade-off incredibly relevant come actual policies.

Our outcomes strongly suggest that both types of to trust play an extremely different roles. Generally, high level of to trust in federal government generate modest rises in compliance likelihood (relative to the level the compliance observed amongst those v low levels of trust in government). Together respondents in our survey experiment are randomly assigned come one of four conditions, we can cleanly disentangle the impact of expectation from the effect of trust. High trust in federal governments plays a modest effect when expectations of compliance are high in our vignette experiment. Regular with previous results <41, 42>, as soon as individuals have high to trust in government, likelihood the compliance v the public wellness guidelines (social distancing and staying at home) goes increase by a modest amount (relative come those through low trust in government). In spicy contrast, in the very same high expectation condition, a high level of trust in science generates a much larger increase in likelihood that compliance. Interestingly, we acquire very comparable results as soon as studying the effect of trust in government and also trust in scientific research on self-reported compliance.

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Our results paper how to trust in scientific research is a necessary method to achieve compliance, even in the many favorable scenario (with high empirical and also normative expectations about others’ compliance), and regardless the the level of trust in government. Capping trust in science by challenging the legitimacy and also rigor of scientific proof may come at a very large price: a significant and pernicious result on compliance, facilitating the spread of the pandemic. In the rest of the paper, we describe the survey in ar 2, present the outcomes in ar 3 and discuss the limitations and policy lessons of our research in the last section.