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Behaviour change during the coronavirus pandemic

By Lorraine Walters

The coronavirus pandemic has brought about behaviour change on an unprecedented scale. From washing our hands at every opportunity to working from home, we have responded to the imminent threat of serious illness by adapting our everyday lives to avoid infection.

In the UK, the government relied on its preferred nudge theory to kick-start behaviour change, rather than implementing more draconian measures straight away. ‘Nudging’ alters behaviour by changing our environment and making positive statements rather than forcing us to do things. Hence the advice to wash our hands for at least 20 seconds and cover our mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve when we cough or sneeze. The option to take away choice altogether and force people to #StayHomeSaveLives would come later, as it was thought that people would tire quickly of such measures and begin to flout them.

What lessons can we learn from the response so far that could have implications for changing health behaviours when the threat to life is not so immediate?

If we collectively change our behaviour, we can help stop the spread of coronavirus. Behavioural science shows that some of us will behave altruistically and some selfishly, but most will put self-interest aside and contribute to the common good, provided others do too. Furthermore, clearly communicating the reasons why and how our behaviour needs to change leads to greater compliance.

Right now, we’re doing as we’re told and are mindful that others might disapprove if we step out of line. But, will the positive changes we have made to our lives be sustainable? After all, they have been engineered under such dramatic circumstances and driven by a perceived need to improve our heath and ‘boost’ our immune system, as well as to give us ‘something to do’. Can the nation’s newfound love of outdoor exercise continue after lockdown ends? When fear for our health diminishes, will unhealthy lifestyles return?

This uncertainty is the big challenge for health brands and healthcare communicators alike: will a new era of super cleanliness or ultradecadence follow and what should we bet on?

Lorraine Waltersis Practice Lead at Say Communications

In association with

8th June 2020

From: Marketing

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