Covid-19: Is Behavioural Science The Key To Handle The Pandemic?

Covid-19: Is Behavioural Science The Key To Handle The Pandemic?

In the challenging times of Covid-19, every person is suffering from one thing or the other. Be it financial loss, health problems or work related stress. We are surrounded by uncertainty regarding almost everything in our lives. Our lives have been stagnant for like 6 months. Students are attending their classes from their homes, work from home has been a motto for several companies now, people facing problems like mental health issues, unemployment, toxic environment at home etc. This pandemic had taken a heavy toll on people’s minds. It is now necessary for the health experts to come up with solutions to facilitate the mental health of the public. Experts need to analyse and understand our behaviors and according to which they could develop measures to limit the transmission of the virus. After some surveys, the experts realise that even after knowing the risks and concerns, the people still refuse to abide by the rules laid down by the governmens. To combat this type of behavior, first they need to accept the fact that only telling people about the risk won’t give them the desired result. They need to approach the situation with different solutions and that’s where behavioral science comes into play. Behavioral science is essentially understanding a person’s cognitive processes especially decision making and communication by studying his/her behavior. Behavioral science is a combination of various fields which deals with the subject of human actions, which are sociology, economics, biology, geography, law, psychology, psychiatry and political science. Within behavioral science, nudge theory, introduced by Richard H Thaler and Cass R Sunstein mainly focuses on design of choices, which influences the decisions we make in our lives. Nudge theory helps us to explore, understand and explain existing influences and why people behave like they do, what are the reasons people choose to behave in a certain way in a particular situation. It facilitates in improving understanding and management of the ‘heuristics’ influences in human behavior. There are lots of unusual and unintentional nudges around all of us, but some nudges in advertisements and the government can be seen as deliberate ones. Some of the examples where nudge has been used are; in some schools, healthier foods are lined up in the front students in the cafeteria. The result of this experiment was a success, as the students unconsciously started consuming healthy food items and the sales of healthier food items rose 18%. Another example is when nudge theory became mainstream, a news in 2009 came into limelight where authorities at Amsterdam airport installed small fly shaped stickers in the urinals. Men now had something to aim at - even subconsciously - which resulted in 80% reduction in the spillages.
Many intuitions and companies like Final Mile, Think Design, Ideas 42 and many others came up with various explanations and ways to facilitate healthy human behavior in human beings by conducting various surveys and intervention. Their methods and ideas had a lot of positive impact and resulted in people being unconsciously motivated to pursue a healthy behaviour in consideration of the pandemic.


A six feet distance between two people has been advised by the health experts in order to avoid spread of the deadly coronavirus. It would not only keep the people safe from coming in contact with the virus but also lessen the burden on the health system and people who already have contracted the virus. Physical distancing has been the need of an hour to contain the virus. But it has proven to be difficult for many countries and their government to implement and follow through. The basic human tendency to underestimate the risk is one of the main reasons why societies are failing to follow social distancing. With a population this big, India is the one of the most affected countries by the Covid-19. In countries like ours, the government should be more strict with social distancing norms. Coping fatigue develops, especially when the lockdown gets extended, the government needs to analyse and come up with more effective and efficient measures to communicate messages about physical distancing in a way that people understand its importance and further are motivated to comply with health behaviours. It is important for the policy makers, practitioners and scientists to understand people’s actions and behaviours to find the most appropriate and effective methods to tackle the problem. The first priority should be behaviours that pose the highest risk and devising a plan against it. Encouraging people to comply with the advised protocol via various nudges can result in something positive. For example, encouraging people to wash their laundry near their homes rather than communal areas or praying or worshipping in homes rather than going collectively to worshiping places. Various countries have taken the help of behavioral science in order to understand and come up with creative ways to ensure social distancing. A market in Kalaw city in Myanmar, has various white boxes painted at advised distance where the vendors can stand and sell their goods. For customers as well various demarcations are made for them to safely conduct their business. These norms have been proven to be effective as both the vendors and customers diligently follow the same. Visual cues can be seen as one of the most persuasive techniques, having the most success rate as visual cues helps us to retrieve and remember the information better than others. When we try to think of something, we get a picture in our minds and that’s how we remember the whole picture or experience. Apart from Myanmar, Kerala (India) applied the spatial reference by asking people to stand in safe distance using their umbrellas as a measure. In Denmark, red stickers can be seen on the floor to let people know how far they should stand in line.


Covid 19 has all of us on our guards. Personal hygiene has been top priority for everyone as it is a great precaution as well as a need to prevent the transmission of the virus. Mask usage can help a person prevent getting infected from affected people as well as from people who might be asymptomatic. Wearing masks can be a very important factor regarding compliance as it promotes other protective behaviours by acting a visible sign and reinforcement of individual commitment to comply. People can catch the virus from people who already have it. The virus can spread from person to person through small droplets/moisture from their mouth or nose which are spread when a person with the affected person coughs or exhales. Often, these droplets land on surfaces and objects around the person which could result in transmission of the virus. This is the reason why we all must be strict about our hygiene. Covid 19 just like tuberculosis, is a respiratory infection which has been a leading cause of illness, morbidity, and mortality around the world. Hygiene behaviour like handwashing and cough etiquette have been acknowledged as preventive measures against diseases and viruses like these. Although vaccinations are still the integral part to prevent infections, hygiene behaviours help with strong immediate measures to contain and reduce the chain of transmission. Breaking the chain of transmission is a vital part in population disease management. They recognise the symptoms, and come up with measures to counter them with necessary standards of healthy hygiene. There have been various types of surveys and interventions with which behavioral scientists were able to devise some measures to promote healthy hygiene behavior. Environmental nudges can be one of the effective techniques to help in compliance for behaviour. Visual cues like painted footsteps and walkways to promote social distancing, increasing positive valence, good fragrance maintained near stations and sinks, color coded water taps to differentiate the purposes like drinking, washing and hand washing. Infrastructure improvement like placing sanitizers and hand wash outlets at comfortable and near to the point of action, repairing leaky taps, sanitation or the wash areas should be promoted. Heuristics can help promote good hygiene behaviour as a credible source like WHO provides guidelines for handwashing and respiratory hygiene. Popular figures like religious leaders, political leaders or celebrities can influence the public in masses. Celebrities like Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Sebastian Stan, Gwyneth Paltrow uploaded their videos as they wash their hands using innovative methods like singing happy birthday twice explaining the time period which one should consider while washing their hands. Another way to promote is to frame the messages to elicit emotions of disgust or threat which will act as aversion from risky behavior and facilitate hygiene behavior. Following rules and regulations given by the health experts and practitioners can conveniently help us save millions of lives unknowingly. Those of us who can facilitate and help should actively indulge themselves in proper hygiene behaviour as well as social distancing and further spread awareness about it. To overcome the difficulties of the virus, we all need to cooperate and make a healthy and safe environment for each other.

About the Author

Fiza Abbas

I recently completed my honours degree in Social Sciences and Humanities from Ambedkar University Delhi. Here, an o

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