University of Bayreuth, Press Release No. 023/2022 - 18 February 2022

Worldwide study: Awareness of national identity is linked to high acceptance of coronavirus measures

A study published in Nature Communications shows that a strong sense of national identity is linked to a high acceptance and support of measures aimed at containing the Covid 19 pandemic. A total of around 50,000 people from 67 countries were surveyed. For their part, Prof. Dr. David Stadelmann and Dr. Raymond Frempong from the University of Bayreuth collected and analysed the data in Ghana. The study distinguishes identification with one's own nation from "national narcissism" and "nationalism". For these phenomena, no correlation with greater adherence to or support for coronavirus measures could be proven.

Analyses of the data collected in 2021 reveal a significant statistical correlation. A strong sense of national identity is associated with a reduction in individual mobility, greater personal acceptance of hygiene measures, and broader support for other coronavirus measures. The international research team defines national identity in the context of the study as conscious belonging to one's own country, which can strengthen one's sense of responsibility with regard to the public good. In contrast, national narcissism and nationalism are evaluated as attitudes that base one's own sense of identity primarily in differentiation from other groups and in their devaluation. The study did not find any evidence that this would strengthen the willingness to actively participate in the fight against the pandemic.

The study, published in Nature Communication, is based solely on self-reporting by those who participated in the survey. Consequently, the authors have now launched a second study. This is based on objective data concerning individual mobility in 42 countries during the initial phase of the pandemic. The results confirm the finding that a comparatively strong sense of national identity is associated with a significant reduction in individual mobility. The correlations observed at the level of individual surveys are thus also found at the country level.

Graphical representation of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

"During the Covid 19 pandemic, numerous non-pharmaceutical interventions were used in most countries around the world. These include, for example, hygiene measures such as quarantine regulations and the wearing of face masks, but also restrictions on individual mobility or the banning of large events. However, these measures can only have a public protective effect if they meet with broad acceptance and actual support. It is therefore important from a behavioural science as well as a political perspective to find out what strengthens this attitude in the population," says Prof. Dr. David Stadelmann, Professor of Development Economics at the University of Bayreuth. "The results of our studies suggest that public appeals to national belonging can strengthen the sense of community and thereby contribute to voluntary compliance. However, political programmes that specifically aim to strengthen national identity and thereby promote public health should be viewed rather critically. Because the boundaries to national narcissism and nationalism are often blurred in practice, they can be misused ideologically and lead to a division of society," Dr Raymond Frempong adds.

However, no clear causal relationship can be derived from the statistically proven link between national identity consciousness and the willingness to support coronavirus measures of any respective government. "The relationship is complex and the direction of effect is not entirely clear. In addition, the samples on which our main study is based are not representative of the entire world population and in some cases only conditionally representative of the countries studied," says Stadelmann. . "On the part of the University of Bayreuth, we conducted and evaluated the surveys in Ghana, but other African countries and regions have hardly been covered so far. Therefore, it is an open question to what extent the results can be transferred to the African continent as a whole," Frempong explains.

J. J. van Bavel et al.: National identity predicts public health support during a global pandemic. Nature Communications 13, 517 (2022). DOI:

Portrait David Stadelmann

Development Economics

University of Bayreuth
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Christian Wißler, Wissenschaftskommunikation

Christian Wißler

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