Data record of: Practical behavioural solutions to COVID-19: Changing the role of behavioural science in crises

Published on by C.C. Tanis
For a very long time in the COVID-19 crisis, behavioural change leading to physical distancing behaviour was the only tool at our disposal to mitigate virus spread. In this large-scale naturalistic experimental study we show how we can use behavioural science to find ways to promote the desired physical distancing behaviour. During seven days in a supermarket we implemented different behavioural interventions: (i) rewarding customers for keeping distance; (i) providing signage to guide customers; and (iii) altering shopping cart regulations. We asked customers to wear a tag that measured distances to other tags using ultra-wide band at 1Hz. In total N = 4,232 customers participated in the study. We compared the number of contacts (< 1.5 m, corresponding to Dutch regulations) between customers using state-of-the-art contact network analyses. We found that rewarding customers and providing signage increased physical distancing, whereas shopping cart regulations did not impact physical distancing. Rewarding customers moreover reduced the duration of remaining contacts between customers. These results demonstrate the feasibility to conduct large-scale behavioural experiments that can provide guidelines for policy. While the COVID-19 crisis unequivocally demonstrates the importance of behaviour and behavioural change, behaviour is integral to many crises, like the trading of mortgages in the financial crisis or the consuming of goods in the climate crisis. We argue that by acknowledging the role of behaviour in crises, and redefining this role in terms of the desired behaviour and necessary behavioural change, behavioural science can open up new solutions to crises and inform policy. We believe that we should start taking advantage of these opportunities.

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