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People walking in mall, some with masks and some barefacedDisregarding pandemic protocols may be driven in part by an excitement-seeking, breaking-rules-in-the-moment-for-fun type of rebelliousness.

Appeal to rebels may advance cautions compliance: researchers

Efforts to re-impose mask mandates in England to combat the omicron variant of the coronavirus will pose challenges after four months of lifted restrictions, but new research out of Ontario may have some answers for overcoming noncompliance.

UWindsor applied social psychology professor Kathryn Lafreniere is a co-author with Mark McDermott, a professor of health psychology at the University of East London, of an article on the subject Monday in the Conversation, which publishes news and views from the academic and research community.

Media commentators posit that people won’t follow COVID rules because they’re fed up with them, but a survey the researchers conducted indicated that dissatisfaction is not a major problem.

“Rather, we found that breaking COVID rules was more often about something else entirely: the enjoyment of rebellion,” the two write. “For some, there’s a little thrill that comes with being playfully oppositional. Defying COVID restrictions for these people produces a pleasurable feeling that reinforces their rule-breaking behaviour, making them more likely to repeat it.”

The authors argue that appealing to that rebellious nature may prove fruitful — for example, having playful nonconformist imagery on face coverings to signal the wearer’s social identity.

“Responding to some people’s rebelliousness is, we think, an under-explored way of getting more people to adhere to COVID measures that can protect us all,” the article states. “But it can at best only be part of the solution — rebelliousness isn’t the only reason behind noncompliance. People may not believe in the effectiveness of the rules, or may mistrust the motives of the government that set them, or not see themselves as having a responsibility to wider society.”

They conclude that governments must also do a better job of explaining the benefits of mask wearing and leaders must set a good example of adhering to the rules they set.

Read the entire article, “Reintroducing masks in England may be met with resistance – here’s how the government can overcome it,” in the Conversation.