How are people interpreting the rules of lockdown?

Researchers launching a new study want to learn about people’s understandings of lockdown restrictions and are asking ordinary kiwis to participate.

Professor Ginny Braun

The study, a collaboration between the University of Auckland and the Open University in the United Kingdom, seeks to understand how the public, in both Britain and New Zealand, make sense of behaviour and decision-making under Covid-19 pandemic lockdown where everyday freedom of movement is heavily restricted.

“Governments around the world have taken unprecedented steps to restrict people’s daily lives and while there has been overwhelming compliance, there has also been some fluid interpretation and even clear flouting of the rules,” says Professor Ginny Braun from the University of Auckland’s School of Psychology.

“We’re keen to understand how the public health messaging during the pandemic is interpreted; what rationales do people use in relation to potential compliance with, or breach of, the rules?”

Professor Braun says international surveys and polls on aspects of lockdown show people can have a somewhat contradictory personal response to constraints on their daily life.

“Studies overseas, for example in Italy, have shown that people notice others breaching the rules but at the same time, think the rules don’t apply to themselves.”

In the Italian study for example, only 36 percent of people surveyed thought other people were abiding by the restrictions, while 18 percent admitted to leaving the house against the rules, citing boredom and wanting to see friends as a rationale for doing so.

Britain’s lockdown restrictions are similar to those in New Zealand, but not yet as long-lasting, and the researchers are also keen to compare how the public in both countries respond to the unanticipated situation we find ourselves in.

“We know infractions of the new rules have occurred in both countries, for example people surfing, swimming and sunbathing and there has been strong debate in both the UK and New Zealand that seeks to justify or rationalise why certain things should not be allowed or disallowed,” says study co-researcher Dr Naomi Moller from Britain’s Open University.

The researchers are using an innovative - even quite fun - method to understand how people make sense of lockdown restrictions including both compliance and resistance. Participants who volunteer to take part will be asked to write two stories about people’s likely actions under lockdown, each prompted by short scenarios provided by the researchers.

The responses are done online, and Professor Braun says for most people it should take less than half an hour to complete. Some participants have contacted the researchers and said they have enjoyed the chance to express how they feel.

“Some people have said they found it cathartic. It’s a different way to try and make sense of the extraordinary situation we have found ourselves in. For those who volunteer to write stories, we hope they will get something useful out of it.”

All information collected in the course of the research will be anonymous and stored on a secure database. People must be aged over 18 and currently living in New Zealand or the UK to take part.

Media contact

Anne Beston | Media adviser
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