Motivating Voluntary Compliance to Behavioural Restrictions: Self-Determination Theory–Based Checklist of Principles for COVID-19 and Other Emergency Communications

Frank Martela, Nelli Hankonen, Richard M. Ryan, Maarten Vansteenkiste

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


An effective response to crises like the COVID-19 pandemic is dependent on the public voluntarily adhering to governmental rules and guidelines. How the guidelines are communicated can significantly affect whether people will experience a sense of self-initiation and volition, protecting compliance from eroding. From the perspective of Self-Determination Theory, a broad theory on human motivation and its interpersonal determinants, effective communication involves the delicate combination of providing rules and structure in a caring and autonomy-supportive way. Research in applied domains from public messaging to education and health has shown that when social agents set limits in more autonomy-supportive, caring, and competence-fostering ways, it predicts autonomous forms of compliance, which in turn predict greater adherence and long-term persistence. Building on SDT, integrated with insights from social identity theory, we derive a practice-focused checklist with key communication guidelines to foster voluntary compliance in national crises such as the prevention of COVID-19 spread.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Review of Social Psychology (Print Edition)
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)305-347
Number of pages43
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2021
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • Autonomy-support
  • crisis response
  • interpersonal interaction
  • motivational style
  • self-determination theory
  • 5144 Social psychology

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