A guilt-free strategy increases self-reported non-compliance with COVID-19 preventive measures: Experimental evidence from 12 countries

Jean-François Daoust, Eric Bélanger, Ruth Dassonneville, Erick Lachapelle, Richard Nadeau, Michael Becher, Sylvain Brouard, Martial Foucault, Christoph Hönninge, and Daniel Stegmueller


Studies of citizens’ compliance with COVID-19 preventive measures routinely rely on survey data. While such data are essential, public health restrictions provide clear signals of what is socially desirable in this context, creating a potential source of response bias in self-reported measures of compliance. In this research, we examine whether the results of a guilt-free strategy recently proposed to lessen this constraint are generalizable across twelve countries, and whether the treatment effect varies across subgroups. Our findings show that the guilt-free strategy is a useful tool in every country included, increasing respondents’ proclivity to report non-compliance by 9 to 16 percentage points. This effect holds for different subgroups based on gender, age and education. We conclude that the inclusion of this strategy should be the new standard for survey research that aims to provide crucial data on the current pandemic.

Published in

Plos One, vol. 16, n. 4, April 2021