Using social and behavioural science to support COVID-19 pandemic response

Bottom Line:

The COVID-19 pandemic represents a global health crisis that requires large-scale behavioural changes and places psychological burden on individuals. Insights from social and behavioral sciences can help in understanding and aligning public health responses in order to manage several aspects of this pandemic such as navigating threats and fear during a pandemic, social and cultural influences on behaviour, science and health communication, moral-decision making, leadership, and stress.


Van Bavel, J.J. et al. Using social and behavioural science to support COVID-19 pandemic response. Nature Human Behaviour (2020).

Date Published:

30 April 2020


The article discusses numerous stages of the current pandemic to help policy makers, leaders, and the public better understand how to manage threats, navigate social and cultural contexts, improve science and health communication. Historically, infectious diseases have been responsible for some of the greatest death tolls. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to persist there is significant anxiety and fear amongst individuals of society. The experience of fear and threat also has implications on how people view themselves and how they feel about others creating an area for prejudice and discrimination. It is suggested that a strong communication strategy is needed without inducing excessive feelings of anxiety and dreadfulness in order to combat fear. An emerging sense of shared identity and concern for others which arises from a shared experience of being in a pandemic can be harnessed by addressing the public in collective terms. Emotions also drive risk perceptions – a positive frame could educate the public and help relieve any negative emotions while increasing favorable public health behaviors. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has also seen a rise in conspiracy theories, fake news, and misinformation. The article discusses several different strategies for engaging in effective communication and persuasion around public health messages to help deliver credible information. The article also provides insights on aligning individual and collective interests through the concepts of zero-sum thinking, moral decision making, and cooperation within groups and provides a perception on how leadership across varying levels can improve trust and compliance. 

Summary by: Parth Patel