Behavioural findings could slow down COVID-19

Collective action is key
  • Deborah Condon

Findings from behavioural science could help to slow down the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus), the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has said.

It has reviewed over 100 scientific research papers on this topic over the last week, focusing on seven core topics - hand washing, face touching, isolation, collective action, avoiding undesirable behaviours, crisis communication, and risk perception.

It said that "some clear conclusions emerge from the evidence".

The first is that simple and cheap behavioural interventions can make a big difference. For example, more people are known to use hand sanitisers if they are placed with colourful signs in unmissable locations, such as immediately facing doors or in the centre of entrance halls.

The ESRI pointed out that all organisations can introduce this simple move.

The researchers also looked at the evidence in relation to the psychological impact of isolation and how to help people to cope with this. They said that evidence suggests that more official support is required, such as a dedicated phoneline.

An example of this is the national support line that has been launched by ALONE, to help older people who have concerns or are facing difficulties relating to COVID-19.

Professional staff are available to answer queries and give advice and reassurance where necessary. The support line is open Monday to Friday, 8am-8pm and these hours may be extended to meet increased demand if necessary. Call 0818 222 024.

Meanwhile, the ESRI also said people tend to do better if they have a plan in relation to isolation, such as keeping up their routine and maintaining contact with others.

Findings from behavioural science also suggest how to encourage people to act in the public interest and to avoid undesirable behaviours, such as panic buying in supermarkets.

"Some of the most important findings concern collective action - we are all in this together. The evidence shows that public-spirited behaviour is much more likely when there is frequent communication of how we can best help each other and strong group identity, not only nationally but also in smaller groups like workplaces, schools and local communities," commented Prof Pete Lunn, head of the ESRI's behavioural research unit.

He also pointed out that "polite social disapproval" for those who do not comply is important.

The ESRI added that when it comes to official communications, speed, honesty and credibility are key. However, so too is empathy.

"It is best if communication of risks is coupled with actions people can take to reduce it."


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