The rise of the corona crisis: Clear information made Danes excel in preventing infection

Around 11 March 2020, we Danes underwent a significant change in behaviour. A change more pronounced than in other western populations. We kept our distance, washed our hands and disinfected more than in other countries. The reason was that we felt we knew what the authorities asked of us when the crisis hit - even more so than other populations.  

10.03.2021 | MIA ULVGRAVEN

This is the result of new research from the HOPE project, soon to be published in British Journal of Health Psychology.

“Our study shows that in March 2020, a charged atmosphere emerged in Denmark and across a number of other countries, which made people put aside individual considerations and political differences. Regardless of whether you had trust in your government or not, the atmosphere across the world caused you to say: “Tell us what to do, and we will do it.” And the Danes experienced that they received clear information to a particularly high degree,” says Michael Bang Petersen, professor of political science at Aarhus BSS, Aarhus University.

He has conducted the study together with Frederik Jørgensen and Alexander Bor, two fellow researchers at the Department of Political Science at Aarhus University.

They have examined how the populations of Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Sweden, Great Britain and the United States reacted during the earliest stage of the crisis.

Looking at the big picture, the extent to which you feel informed and capable of acting is closely connected with the extent of your actual behaviour to prevent infection in the initial time of crisis, e.g. by keeping your distance and refraining from handshakes. In Denmark, we scored high on both aspects.

"Often, decision-makers are worried that the population will panic. But our data shows that you do not need to fear this"


Michael Bang Petersen, professor, Department of Political Science, Aarhus BSS

The study does not explain why, but the researchers cautiously offer a suggestion.

“The fact that the Danes experienced the most pronounced feeling of knowing what they were being asked to do, and how they should act – and made the most substantial changes in behaviour accordingly – could relate to the Danish government’s very clear communication about how to avoid a collapse of the healthcare system, admittedly after a somewhat slow start. In the days surrounding the lockdown, minister for health Magnus Heunicke presented us with the red and green curves, then came the lockdown and the queen’s speech. This made it clear what was needed and that now was the time for each of us to change our behaviour significantly,” says Michael Bang Petersen.

Representative surveys from all eight countries form the basis for the research findings. A total of 26,508 people participated from March to May 2020.

“We have been able to study a very important event in Denmark as well as globally, because we had the opportunity to collect data while the events were unfolding,” says Michael Bang Petersen.

“We now possess a unique insight into behaviour during a crisis, which we can utilise both in the present and in the long term. Often, decision-makers are worried that the population will panic. But our data shows that you do not need to fear this. Instead, you should tell people as clearly as possible about the actual challenge and how they should act,” he concludes.