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New Study Examines the Role of Expectations and Duration on Compliance with COVID-19 Social-Distancing Measures.

March 31, 2020

Toronto – A new study based on social distancing measures in Italy demonstrates people’s intentions to comply with self-isolation norms depend on how authorities communicate their duration and what people expect the duration will be.


The study found that respondents, who are positively surprised by a given hypothetical extension of social distancing such as the extension is shorter than what they expected, are more willing to increase their self-isolation. In contrast, negative surprises such as extensions longer than expected are associated with a lower willingness to comply.


The study is based on a survey of Italians conducted by SWG, a leading market research firm, on March 18 to 20. It is co-authored by Profs. Nicola Lacetera of the University of Toronto Mississauga and Rotman School of Management, Mario Macis of Johns Hopkins University, Mirco Tonin of Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, and  Dr Guglielmo Briscese of the University of ChicagoIt was published online by the National Bureau of Economic Research on March 30.


“In a context where individual compliance has collective benefits, but full enforcement is costly and controversial, communication and persuasion have a fundamental role. Our findings provide insights to public authorities on how to announce lockdown measures and manage people’s expectations,” say the authors.


The complete study is online at


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Ken McGuffin

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Rotman School of Management

University of Toronto

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