Using behavioral science to help fight the coronavirus
Journal of Behavioral Public Administration, Vol. 3 No. 1, 2020
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This rapid, narrative review summarizes useful evidence from behavioral science for fighting the COVID-19 outbreak. We undertook an extensive, multi-disciplinary literature search covering five issues: handwashing, face touching, self-isolation, public-spirited behavior, and responses to crisis communication. The search identified more than 100 relevant papers. We find effective behavioral interventions to increase handwashing, but not to reduce face touching. Social supports and behavioral plans can reduce the negative psychological effects of isolation, potentially reducing the disincentive to isolate. Public-spirited behavior is more likely with frequent communication of what is “best for all”, strong group identity, and social disapproval of noncompliance. Effective crisis communication involves speed, honesty, credibility, empathy, and promoting useful individual actions. Risks are probably best communicated through numbers, with ranges to describe uncertainty – simply stating a maximum may bias public perception. The findings aim to be useful not only for government and public health authorities, but for organizations and communities.