It Is Not Just about Politics: Moral Relativists Resist Health Mandates (NPIs) during the COVID-19 Pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 health authorities asked individuals to take precautions to reduce the spread of the disease, but individuals differed in their compliance with these health interventions. To determine if compliance was associated with people’s moral beliefs, we measured US residents’ moral relativism and idealism and their compliance with nonpharmaceutical health interventions (NPIs) during the pandemic. Consistent with ethics position theory, relativism—the belief that moral rules are personal standards—predicted noncompliance of during the “safer-at-home” (Study 1, r = +0.42) and “opening up” period (Study 2, r = +0.57) of the pandemic, and this relationship remained significant when controlling for other factors, such as political orientation and race. Moral beliefs that emphasize minimizing harm to others (idealism), in contrast, were not associated with compliance. These findings suggest that people will be more likely to comply with health initiatives if they believe that noncompliance is morally wrong.
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