Cross-Theoretical Compliance: An Integrative Compliance Analysis of COVID-19 Mitigation Responses in Israel

AuthorAnne Leonore de Bruijn,Yuval Feldman,Christopher P. Reinders Folmer,Malouke E. Kuiper,Megan Brownlee,Emmeke Kooistra,Elke Olthuis,Adam Fine,Benjamin van Rooij
Published date01 April 2023
Date01 April 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Administration & Society
2023, Vol. 55(4) 635 –670
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/00953997221140899
Compliance: An
Integrative Compliance
Analysis of COVID-19
Mitigation Responses in
Anne Leonore de Bruijn1, Yuval Feldman2,
Christopher P. Reinders Folmer1,
Malouke E. Kuiper1, Megan Brownlee1,
Emmeke Kooistra1, Elke Olthuis1, Adam Fine3,
and Benjamin van Rooij1,4
To understand the question why people obey or break rules, different
approaches have focused on different theories and subsets of variables.
The present research develops a cross-theoretical approach that integrates
these perspectives. We apply this in a survey of compliance with COVID-19
pandemic mitigation rules in Israel. The data reveal that compliance in this
setting was shaped by a combination of variables originating from legitimacy,
capacity, and opportunity theories (but not rational choice or social theories).
This demonstrates the importance of moving beyond narrow theoretical
1University of Amsterdam, Netherlands
2Bar-Ilan University, Israel
3Arizona State University, USA
4University of California, Irvine, USA
Corresponding Author:
Christopher P. Reinders Folmer, Center for Law and Behavior, Department of Jurisprudence,
Amsterdam Law School, University of Amsterdam, P.O. Box 15544, Amsterdam 1001 NA,
The Netherlands.
1140899AAS0010.1177/00953997221140899Administration & Societyde Bruijn et al.
636 Administration & Society 55(4)
perspectives of compliance, to a cross-theoretical understanding—in which
different theoretical approaches are systematically integrated.
compliance, compliance theory, COVID-19, mitigation measures, social
distancing, lockdown, stay-at-home measures, rational choice theory,
deterrence, punishment, legitimacy, procedural justice, obligation to obey
the law, social norms, capacity to comply, impulsivity, strain theory, negative
emotions, opportunity to violate, trust in science, public health, Israel
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced humanity to fundamentally change its
behavior. During the initial wave of the pandemic, governments around the
world adopted far-reaching restrictive measures, such as stay-at-home orders
and social distancing rules, which were essential to slow the spread of the
disease (Walker et al., 2020). The results have shown unprecedented behav-
ioral change across most of the world. Compliance with these new measures
has come with tremendous social and economic costs, as many people lost
their jobs, education was severely disrupted, and ordinary life was completely
upended. As such, the first pandemic wave created a unique and highly rare
situation, where we see massive behavioral change induced by the adoption
of governmental rules.
It is for this reason that compliance with mitigation measures during this
period is of vital interest for the field of compliance studies. This field aims
to understand the interaction between rules and human conduct (van Rooij &
Sokol, 2021), and specifically, the way that compliance with rules, laws, and
policies develops and is sustained. Compliance research has traditionally
looked at these questions through particular theoretical perspectives, such as
rational choice theories (Becker, 1968; Gul, 2009), social theories (Nolan &
Wallen, 2021; Schultz et al., 2007), legitimacy theories (Tyler, 2006), capac-
ity theories (Pratt & Lloyd, 2021; Van Rooij & Fine, 2021), and opportunity
theories (Benson et al., 2009; Clarke, 2005; Felson, 1987). While these per-
spectives have not been fully isolated, the focus in different strands of com-
pliance literature has most often been to show how a particular theory can
best explain compliance within a particular setting, or how one, two, or three
theories interact (e.g., see Gneezy & Rustichini, 2000; Murphy, 2003;
Thornton et al., 2005; Wenzel, 2005). As a result, the compliance literature
exists as a patchwork of different theoretical strands, focusing on different
settings and variables, which seldom have been combined in a systematic
de Bruijn et al. 637
fashion. But although approaches that zoom in on a particular, limited subset
of theories and variables may produce elegant results, their omission of con-
cepts that are central in other strands of the literature may mean that impor-
tant aspects of what shapes compliance are overlooked, limiting their capacity
to explain or inform practical interventions. As such, the field of compliance
studies faces an urgent challenge: it has not yet produced a perspective of
compliance that integrates all main theoretical approaches into a systematic,
cross-theoretical perspective, which understands compliance in relation to
major compliance theories, identifies key variables as they apply to particular
settings, and considers each to explore how compliance is shaped. The first
pandemic wave provides a unique opportunity for developing and testing
such a cross-theoretical perspective by providing a setting in which core
mechanisms from all major compliance theories were operating, and their
relationship with compliance can be studied.
The present research leverages this setting to address this major lacuna in
the existing compliance literature. Our major purpose is to develop a cross-
theoretical approach to compliance that bridges and integrates the major
theoretical approaches in the field of compliance studies and to demonstrate
how this can contribute beyond traditional, narrow approaches based on sin-
gle theoretical perspectives. We develop this approach by studying compli-
ance with COVID-19 mitigation measures during the first pandemic wave.
For this purpose, we developed a cross-theoretical survey in which core vari-
ables from the major compliance theories were systematically assessed. We
first examine how these variables relate to compliance when looked at from
a single theoretical perspective. Then, we examine their associations with
compliance when looked at from a cross-theoretical perspective in which the
core variables from each theoretical perspective are considered simultane-
ously. Through this comparison, we demonstrate how in this setting, a cross-
theoretical perspective can correct and enrich the insights obtained through
narrower approaches to compliance. From this, we develop implications for
our general understanding of compliance and the way that it might be studied
in other settings.
We study these questions in the context of Israel. We do so firstly because
this country adopted legally enforceable rules on social distancing and stay-
at-home measures during the first pandemic wave, such that behavioral
responses to these measures constitute compliance.1 Moreover, its response
during this period leveraged core mechanisms from across the major compli-
ance theories—including strong deterrence,2 social norms,3 measures to sus-
tain citizens capacity to comply,4 and removal of opportunities for violating
the rules.5 These features make Israel suitable for studying compliance from
a cross-theoretical perspective. As with any setting, the selection of Israel,

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