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GS-II : Governance

Behavioural change can reduce transmission (Covid-19)

  • 07 June, 2021

  • 8 Min Read

Behavioural change can reduce transmission (Covid-19)

Need for behavioural change

  • There are many methods rooted in behavioural science that we can employ to improve mask wearing
  • Most of us in India will agree that there are two large parts to this pandemic:
    • medical science and
    • human behaviour.
  • Universal vaccination will reduce infections, but with vaccine availability currently challenging, ‘herd immunity’ is still many months, if not years, away.
  • Lack of physical distancing and proper hand washing are among the reasons for daily new infections.
  • But the biggest reason for the surge is that people are wearing masks inconsistently, incorrectly, or not at all.
  • Data from a global survey of COVID-19 knowledge, attitudes and practices (KAP) produced by the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs show that from July 2020 to March 2021, India saw a 5% drop in mask wearing.
  • While there will always be a minority who do not believe in the virus, masks or vaccines, a great majority would like to do what it takes to put this pandemic behind us.
  • Relying solely on medical science, especially treatment, takes the agency away from the average people to act.

Channels for communication

  • With behavioural data and strategic approaches, resources can be more efficiently used in reaching different audience segments with information through the channels they trust.
  • Here are seven ways, rooted in behavioural science, that we can employ to improve mask wearing and other COVID-19 prevention measures.

Methods to change the behavioural pattern among the public

  • Basic Information: we all need basic information on why masks are effective in preventing COVID-19 transmission.
    • We also need to know who should wear them, when and where.
  • Clear message: We need clarity on what types of masks are most effective, how to wear a mask correctly, and when is it important to double mask.
  • Trusted sources of Information: The COVID-19 KAP survey shows that scientists and health experts are the most trusted sources of information on COVID-19, followed by the World Health Organization, television, newspapers, radio, and local health workers.
    • These trusted channels should be used together to share basic information.
  • Sharing of information: As new information becomes available that is different from, or that adds to, the baseline information that people have, it should be shared with everyone in a comprehensive and timely way.
  • Counter the misconceptions: We should not discount or put down people’s beliefs or misconceptions, but counter them with credible facts.
  • Tailor-made communication: Communication to each group of people should be tailored accordingly.
  • Benefits associated to be communicated: We need to communicate the benefits of mask wearing.
    • Sharing testimonials from people who wear masks regularly and explaining how they have managed to avoid getting infected could help.
    • Making masks a symbol of being cool (for the image-conscious), a sign of being considerate and respectful (for people who have elders and vulnerable people at home), and a badge of being smart (for those who want to protect themselves) could all be ways of reaching out to different kinds of people.
  • Create a positive social norm: We need to create a positive social norm around mask wearing.
    • People are more likely to practise a behaviour if they believe that everyone else is also doing it too.
    • Each audience segment has its own influencers, whether in their community or in the media. Those influencers should be routinely seen wearing a mask or heard talking about it.
    • Advertisements, messages and visuals all positively reinforce mask wearing.
  • Strict enforcement: Many people do not follow proper masking behaviour because there is no consequence for their inaction.
    • We rely only on the police to enforce mask wearing.
    • While that is needed, we should all take collective responsibility.
  • Positive Multiplier effect: If each of us can influence the people around us, the positive multiplier effect of wearing masks will be significant in curbing infections.
  • Compassionate leadership: We need compassionate leadership.
    • Leaders, at every level, can play a positive or negative role in influencing our behaviour.
    • Leaders have to lead with empathy, and build and hold the trust of the people they lead.
  • Responsible Media: We need responsible media. If fear of the threat (COVID-19 in this case) is stronger than our perception that we can do something about it, we will ignore the threat rather than trying to address it.
    • We look to the media for brave and honest reporting and there have been some great examples of that during the pandemic.
    • In their helplessness, people indiscriminately share information, misinformation and disinformation on social media.
    • When we see uplifting and inspiring stories of prevention efforts, ideas and innovations to promote masking, distancing and vaccination, we will feel inspired to do our bit for prevention.


  • We need to invest in a comprehensive, behavioural approach to address COVID-19 behaviour.
  • Understanding, predicting and shaping human behaviour is a science too.
  • Indeed, it is the less expensive way of digging ourselves out of the hole we are currently in.



Source: TH


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