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How behavioral science can help enforce social distancing

REUTERS/Umit Bektas
Mannequins placed between tables to make customers sit according to social distancing rules.

By necessity, Covid-19 has transformed our day-to-day lives nearly beyond recognition. A big part of this change has been enforced by legal and rule-based changes that dictate people’s behavior, such as mandated isolation and the closing of schools, offices, non-essential shops, bars, and restaurants.

But not all behavior can be legislated. No one can actually force people to wash their hands or maintain a six-foot distance at all cost. It’s extremely difficult to stop people from gathering if they want to. But we can turn to science for help.

Behavioral science is the rigorous application of science to understand human behavior and—importantly—what influences it. We can apply techniques and use the best research and insight into nudges, heuristics, and human decision-making to understand how to influence the largest number of people to follow and comply with government recommendations around Covid-19—whether on a national, company, or local level.

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