This commentary provides insights from social and behavioral science for effective responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Regardless of the message being communicated, it will be more persuasive if it comes from a credible source, which stems from how trustworthy and expert the source appears to be. To encourage individuals to comply with behavioral change recommendations during an infectious disease outbreak, it is important that credible sources not only communicate the threat of the virus but more importantly also provide people with the tools and confidence to address the threat. Appealing to emotions typically leads to greater behavior change than focusing only on factual information; however, correcting misperceptions about social norms by providing accurate information about what most people are doing is also helpful for promoting positive behavior changes.
Additionally, the following social scientific recommendations are offered to public health experts, policy makers, and community leaders:
- Encourage a shared sense of identity by using collective terms (e.g., “we,” “us”)
- Enlist the help of credible local sources (e.g., religious or community leaders) to share public health messages
- Appeal to media and leaders to promote cooperative behavior by reporting on people who are already cooperating and on the morality of doing the “right” thing
- Model prosocial behaviors and get socially approved spokespeople to do the same
- Highlight bipartisan support for COVID-related measures
- Tailor public health messaging for marginalized communities
- Disseminate messages that emphasize benefits to oneself and others
- Prepare people for misinformation and ensure they have accurate information by counterarguing conspiracy theories, fake news, and other false information
- Use the term “physical distancing” instead of “social distancing” so that people understand they can still have social connections even when physically separated
Having leaders who align individual and collective interests, demonstrate trustworthiness, and address the major stressors created from the social isolation during this time provides effective communication for individuals to help mitigate the impact of the current pandemic.