Motivations for Social Distancing and App Use as Complementary Measures to Combat the COVID-19 Pandemic: Quantitative Survey Study.J Med Internet Res. 2020 08 27; 22(8):e21613.JM
The current COVID-19 pandemic is showing negative effects on human health as well as on social and economic life. It is a critical and challenging task to revive public life while minimizing the risk of infection. Reducing interactions between people by social distancing is an effective and prevalent measure to reduce the risk of infection and spread of the virus within a community. Current developments in several countries show that this measure can be technologically accompanied by mobile apps; meanwhile, privacy concerns are being intensively discussed.
The aim of this study was to examine central cognitive variables that may constitute people's motivations for social distancing, using an app, and providing health-related data requested by two apps that differ in their direct utility for the individual user. The results may increase our understanding of people's concerns and convictions, which can then be specifically addressed by public-oriented communication strategies and appropriate political decisions.
This study refers to the protection motivation theory, which is adaptable to both health-related and technology-related motivations. The concept of social trust was added. The quantitative survey included answers from 406 German-speaking participants who provided assessments of data security issues, trust components, and the processes of threat and coping appraisal related to the prevention of SARS-CoV-2 infection by social distancing. With respect to apps, one central focus was on the difference between a contact tracing app and a data donation app.
Multiple regression analyses showed that the present model could explain 55% of the interindividual variance in the participants' motivation for social distancing, 46% for using a contact tracing app, 42% for providing their own infection status to a contact tracing app, and 34% for using a data donation app. Several cognitive components of threat and coping appraisal were related to motivation measurements. Trust in other people's social distancing behavior and general trust in official app providers also played important roles; however, the participants' age and gender did not. Motivations for using and accepting a contact tracing app were higher than those for using and accepting a data donation app.
This study revealed some important cognitive factors that constitute people's motivation for social distancing and using apps to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Concrete implications for future research, public-oriented communication strategies, and appropriate political decisions were identified and are discussed.