Belonging can drive better pandemic health practices

16 September 2021

A feeling of belonging, to their neighbourhood and to Australia is key to motivating people to adopt physical distancing and good hand hygiene behaviours during the COVID-19 pandemic new Australian National University-led research shows.

The findings have important ramifications for strategic efforts aimed at building Australia's resilience in the face of both health-related emergencies, and crises more generally.

ANU Postdoctoral Fellow Dr Diana Cárdenas and her colleagues surveyed a nationally representative sample of 3000 people in mid-May 2020, and followed up a month later to assess the predictors of physical distancing and good hand hygiene.

The results show that even after accounting for demographic and socioeconomic variables and individuals' perception of their own health and risks, social cohesion-the sense that 'we are all in this together'-remained a strong predictor of people's reported physical distancing and hand hygiene.

A sense of identification with a neighbourhood, and a sense of belonging within Australia were the two top social cohesion factors. A third factor was confidence in the Australian Government.

Importantly, the research also found that social cohesion was the primary predictor of health behaviours among both Australian-born survey respondents as well as those born overseas.

The research outcomes point to the importance of creating neighbourhoods and an Australian culture that fosters positive social interactions and a sense of 'us' so that even when a pandemic keeps people apart, they remain 'together', tackling the crisis as a group.

Dr Cárdenas and her colleagues' research was published in the July 2021 issue of Political Psychology and conducted this research along with the ANU's Australian Social Cohesion: Exploring New Directions (ASCEND) program.

With support from ANU Enterprise, Dr Cardenas and her colleagues are also researching other COVID-relevant topics including group risk behaviours and vaccine attitudes.

To connect with Dr Cardenas or other ANU researchers, contact