New study shows public thinks they are sticking to lockdown rules but others aren't

The public’s belief on how well people are sticking to lockdown rules differs greatly when asked to compare their own actions with those of others.

Initial findings of a unique new study, by the Institute of Criminal Justice Studies at the University of Portsmouth, show respondents strongly felt during the first national lockdown that they were playing by the rules, but others were not.   

The study, which is still continuing, looks at public perceptions of COVID-19 laws and guidelines.  It is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), as part of
UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to Covid-19. Hundreds of Hampshire residents are being questioned by researchers. 

When asked to rate how well they had complied with the first lockdown on a 5-point scale (with 1 - not well at all, and 5 - very well), the average was 4.49. This compared to only 2.40 when asked to indicate how well they felt the general population had complied with lockdown regulations.  There is clearly a concern amongst residents that ‘other people’ are not sticking to the rules as they should be.  

Participants believe they had been significantly more compliant than others in the UK general population. Those furthest from the respondents’ own social environment were seen to be the least compliant... Family was seen as most compliant, followed by friends, people in their neighbourhood, and finally people in the UK general population

Dr Rob Inkpen, Reader in Geography

Dr Rob Inkpen, Reader in Geography at the University of Portsmouth, is leading this part of the research. He explains: “Data for this project is being collected over a nine-month period, which is allowing us to witness change over time. Participants believe they had been significantly more compliant than others in the UK general population. Those furthest from the respondents’ own social environment were seen to be the least compliant... Family was seen as most compliant, followed by friends, people in their neighbourhood, and finally people in the UK general population. This latter group were perceived as not being compliant with the lockdown regulations.” 

The restriction that was most abided to, was to not attend social gatherings. Social distancing was the restriction least complied with. Researchers concluded that this could be
because of the difficulty of practising social distancing in some circumstances. 

Camille Ilett, researcher, University of Portsmouth says, “analysis of the survey identified contrasts in how respondents reported problems with compliance within their local area, depending on how they reported their own compliance. Those with high compliance scores were more likely to report problems with adherence to the rules, whereas respondents with lower scores were less likely to believe there had been problems.”

Participants did not expect their behaviour and compliance level to change in further lockdowns but the research team are about to launch a second survey to find out. However, those with higher levels of compliance were more likely to predict that, in general,  others would comply well with the lockdown regulations. Those with low levels of compliance did not predict that others would comply well in this scenario.

Those with high compliance scores were more likely to report problems with adherence to the rules, whereas respondents with lower scores were less likely to believe there had been problems.

Camille Ilett, researcher

Various demographic aspects of the participants such as gender, age, fear of COVID-19 and key worker status, were shown to influence levels of reported compliance: 

  • Women perceived the police and public services slightly more positively, reported higher levels of compliance to lockdown regulations and were more likely to predict
    themselves to comply with regulations in the event of a future lockdown compared to men.
  • Participants in older age groups tended to perceive the general UK population as more compliant, compared to younger age groups who rated the general UK population as being less compliant. Participants aged between 25 and 45 and 55 and 64 were most likely to report that there had been low levels of compliance within their local areas. The prediction of future compliance in further lockdowns was high amongst all age groups, but was significantly higher amongst older participants. 
  • People who reported feeling anxious about the virus were more likely to report following lockdown rules and perceive the UK population as not following the rules to
    the same standard. The more anxious people were about catching COVID-19, the higher their self-reported scores of compliance and future compliance were, and the
    lower their perceived scores of compliance of other people were compared to those who weren’t anxious. Similarly, the more people were afraid of catching COVID-19,
    the more they estimated that people in their local area were not abiding well to lockdown restrictions
  • The data shows some differences between participants who reported being key workers compared to those who were not keyworkers. Key workers rated themselves
    as being less compliant to the lockdown regulations compared to non-key workers. An explanation for this could be that key workers were more likely to be unable to
    work from home and have more interactions with the public in general. Key workers perceived people in the general UK population and their local area to be less
    compliant, and were less likely to predict that people would comply well with regulations in a further lockdown.

Those responding with low compliance scores may feel a disregard for authority or the belief that the restrictions are unnecessary.

Dr Sarah Charman, Reader in Criminology

The perception of the police during COVID-19 restrictions differed amongst participants dependent on their levels of compliance. Participants who reported they trusted the police 'completely' to be fair and transparent in enforcing Covid-19 laws and restrictions were significantly more likely to also report that they fully complied with lockdown restrictions.  Dr Sarah Charman, Reader in Criminology is leading the research and she explains why compliance and attitudes towards authority might be linked “those responding with low compliance scores may feel a disregard for authority or the belief that the restrictions are unnecessary.” 

The final results of the research will be reported later this year. The team of researchers include Dr Sarah Charman, Dr Paul Smith and Dr Stephanie Bennett from the Institute of
Criminal Justice Studies and Dr Rob Inkpen from the School of the Environment, Geography and Geosciences at the University of Portsmouth.

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