Using regulatory focus to encourage physical distancing in services: when fear helps to deal with Mr. Deadly COVID-19

Do The Khoa, Chen-Ya Wang, Priyanko Guchait

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although physical distancing is the key to reducing the risk of virus infection, the commonly used signs to spur physical distancing in services seem ineffective as many customers still refrain from practicing physical distancing. This research therefore suggests using regulatory focus (prevention vs. promotion) to improve the persuasiveness of these appeals. Study 1 creates and validates one multiple-item scale for measuring physical distancing in services, which is then adopted in two subsequent scenario-based experiments. Study 2 proves the superior effect of prevention-focused message to both promotion-focused message and conventional message in encouraging physical distancing compliance, which is explained by perceived fear as the underlying psychological mechanism. Study 3 further unveils the boundary condition of anthropomorphism in strengthening this superiority (i.e. Mr. Deadly COVID-19, scary face). Given a great deal of uncertain future caused by this epidemic, this research provides relevant implications for fostering the engagement in physical distancing in services.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)32-57
Number of pages26
JournalService Industries Journal
Issue number1-2
Early online date19 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • regulatory focus
  • physical distancing
  • fear
  • anthropomorphism
  • COVID-19

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