Scientists at one of Scotland's leading universities have been researching how well people in Scotland have adopted Covid-19 preventative behaviours - and made some interesting discoveries.

The results from the University of Aberdeen research shows that while the majority of Scots are following the government-issued guidance on Covid-19 - such as FACTS - women are better than men, and young people, at following the rules.  

During this stage of the project, the team from the University’s Institute of Applied Health Sciences have focussed on adherence - looking at how well people are sticking to the rules and identifying if there are groups of people who may be less likely to comply.    

Since the project began in June this year the team have interviewed thousands of Scottish volunteers to establish whether they were adhering to the guidance to maintain a 2 metre distance, wear face coverings and wash hands their hands regularly.   

In general, the Health Psychologists found that the measures recommended to reduce the spread of Covid-19 are being followed by the majority of adults living in Scotland.   

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However, there are areas for improvement. Professor Diane Dixon found that some groups – specifically, men and young people - are less likely to follow the guidance and are therefore identified as important groups to target for improvement.  

Professor Dixon explains: “These initial results are encouraging in the sense that the majority of people in Scotland are adhering to the behaviours designed to protect ourselves and others from Covid-19.   

“However, our work also found that there are groups of people – men and young people, for whom this behaviour change may be proving more difficult. Although preliminary at this stage, it does suggest that these groups may benefit from more targetted campaigns and messaging to promote this behaviour change.”  

In another part of the work, Professor Marie Johnston found that handwashing, physical distancing and wearing face coverings were quickly becoming habit for most people and most people have adopted these with a high degree of automaticity.

Professor Johnston found that handwashing is the most established behaviour of the three, followed by face coverings and physical distancing being the most difficult to get used to.   

Professor Johnston explains: “Behaviour change is essential for protection from Covid-19 and establishing a behaviour as a ‘habit’ is the best way to ensure that it becomes an automatic part of our daily routine.   

“While the new behaviours required conscious planning when first introduced, one might expect that after many months they would be performed automatically without requiring much effort. 

"Our results found that this had indeed become the case and that this habit has strengthened over the 3 months we looked at it.”  

The team also developed a new way to measure whether people are following the guidance - the adherence scale, which is expected to be adopted by researchers all over the world who may be looking to measure the same thing.   

Dr Chantal den Daas who devised the adherence scale explains: “Having this new measurement means that we have a way in which we can look how things are going over time, as Government directions change, or as sentiment change – as people get tired of the new restrictions.

"We are also able to use it to identify groups who adhere less and explore what predicts adherence. Finally, the score can be used to predict adherence to other behaviours.  

Dr Den Daas also found that there are certain types of people who are more likely to follow the rules: “It was particularly interesting to find that people have a personal style such that if they adhere to one of the behaviours they are likely to adhere to all three behaviours  - physical distancing, wearing face covering, and hand washing.” Dr Den Daas explains.   

“Similarly, people who keep a 2 metre distance, wash their hands frequently, and wear face coverings are also more likely to stay at home or only go out for the permitted reasons.”  

Dr Den Daas adds: “To halt the transmission of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 the Government have asked the people of Scotland to change radically the way they live their daily lives including instructions to keep at least 2m away from other people, to wash our hands frequently and thoroughly and to wear face masks when on public transport and in shops.    

“We already know from previous Public Health campaigns around healthy living and disease prevention that behaviour change can be difficult, even when we know it is for our benefit.   

“The FACTS behaviours are important not only for the containment of the Covid-19 – if they become automatic to us all they might protect against other infectious diseases including influenza and the common cold.  

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Health Secretary Jeane Freeman welcomed the research and added: “We welcome the fact that the majority of people are following the rules and this research will help inform the Scottish Government’s approach when asking the public to stick with it in our ongoing effort to suppress this virus.

"It emphasises the importance of research in our decision making. Adherence to guidance and rules is a collective effort and, while it has been an extremely difficult period for everybody, we will get there faster if we all stick together. 

 “Following the restrictions is one of three keyways we are working to beat this virus along with our expanded testing programme to identify cases and break chains of transmission and of course the ongoing vaccination programme. All these measures work to greatest effect when they are implemented together.”

These preliminary findings are part of the nationwide CHARIS (Covid Health and Adherence Research in Scotland) project - a research project funded by the Chief Scientist Office (CSO) Rapid Research in Covid-19 Programme. 

The results were presented at the UK Society for Behavioural Medicine conference earlier this month.