Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences

The Emotional Path to Action: Empathy Promotes Physical Distancing and Wearing of Face Masks During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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The COVID-19 pandemic presents a major challenge to societies all over the globe. Two measures implemented in many countries to curb the spread of the disease are (a) minimizing close contact between people (“physical distancing”) and (b) wearing of face masks. In the present research, we tested the idea that physical distancing and wearing of face masks can be the result of a prosocial emotional process—empathy for people most vulnerable to the virus. In four preregistered studies (N = 3,718, Western population), we found that (a) empathy indeed relates to the motivation to adhere to physical distancing and to wearing face masks and (b) inducing empathy for people most vulnerable to the virus promotes the motivation to adhere to these measures (whereas merely providing information about the importance of the measures does not). In sum, the present research provides a better understanding of the factors underlying the willingness to follow two important measures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychological Science
Pages (from-to)1363-1373
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020

    Research areas

  • COVID-19, empathy, face masks, open data, open materials, physical distancing, preregistered, prosociality

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