Social norms highlighted in 2018 survey remain just as important today

The norms continued to remain relevant amid the Covid-19 pandemic and the resurgence in dengue.
The norms continued to remain relevant amid the Covid-19 pandemic and the resurgence in dengue.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - The results of a survey in 2018 on the most desired social norms - carried out by Associate Professor Leong Chan-Hoong, who is now with the Singapore University of Social Sciences - are as relevant today as then, said the professor.  

The survey of 3,000 Singaporeans, carried out in August and December 2018, showed that removing stagnant water to prevent mosquito breeding was the most desired norm among Singaporeans and this was followed by refraining from spitting or littering in public, and smoking only in designated areas.

Associate Professor Leong Chan-Hoong noted that these norms continued to remain relevant during the Covid-19 pandemic, in which health and hygiene are important, and the resurgence of dengue.

"People are still as cognisant that these civic norms are important, but I would expect more individuals to take active steps to encourage those around them to do the same, especially when the importance of such socially responsible behaviour comes to the forefront," he said.

For instance, desirable norms such as refraining from spitting in public now bears much greater weight than before as the coronavirus, which causes Covid-19, spreads through respiratory droplets.

Not surprisingly, removing stagnant water to prevent the breeding of mosquitoes was rated as the most desirable social norm in 2018 because there was a sharp rise in dengue that year with 3,285 cases reported.

As the number of dengue infections surges past 10,000 this year, Prof Leong noted that the concerns then are just as valid today.

He hoped that this would lead to more civic-minded behaviour among individuals such as people taking active steps to remove stagnant water in common corridors and their neighbourhoods.

In the 2018 survey, only 28.2 per cent of respondents rated the clearing of one's own plates in hawker centres as "very important".


But Prof Leong suggested that more thought should be given to this as dining at eateries will soon be permitted as Singapore moves towards phase two of reopening the economy.

He said: "There are two factors at play here. There's the health dimension of keeping public areas clean and hygienic, but also the dimension of civic consciousness, such as cleaning up after yourself to lessen the load on cleaners, where the underlying driver of empathy may not be as salient.

"This is a good habit that may require greater awareness, and more targeted messaging could be promoted to induce more socially desirable behaviour among the public."