The coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic presented policymakers with the need to change people’s behavior in a fundamental way and for an extended period of time. Changing habits is difficult and requires sustained effort, and sustaining effort is especially difficult when it does not seem to yield conspicuous results. The COVID-19 pandemic presented exactly this difficulty, as numbers of infected people continued to rise despite the public’s efforts. In a representative sample from Israel (N = 600), collected online during the first outbreak of the pandemic, we found that compared to control conditions in which information on only actual infection cases was presented, counterfactual information on the number of averted cases enhances the perceived effectiveness of following the guidelines, which, in turn, enhances perceived importance and intention of doing so (e.g., intention to restrict mobility), but only among those who understood the information. The findings align with self-regulation theories and have practical implications for policymakers.
- action efficiency