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Behavioural science has always been of serious interest to the marketing sector and – of course to the world of politics. But its theories have taken on particular importance in recent months with the spread of the coronavirus and an international lockdown.
One such theory has been notably employed in the UK to influence the public to practice social distancing, self isolation and ultimately lockdown. Nudge Theory was first brought to prominence by US Academics Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein in their 2008 book “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness.”
It articulates tactics that influences not through enforcement, but by presenting a “choice architecture” that nudges people towards adopting a behaviour that can benefit them and not significantly impact them economically. Humans respond better to being coaxed rather than being coerced.
COVID-19 has – of course – caused a significant change to people’s everyday lives. But the threat to lives positioned against the inconvenience of lockdown, softened by mortgage holidays and support for furloughed employees schemes makes the choicer easier.
Similarly, the current arrangements were not brought in wholesale and nor are the timelines stretching months into the future. There has been light kept just ahead of us in the tunnel.
We – the UK public – have been nudged along gradually from voluntary restrictions to the over 70s self isolating to the urgings over non-essential travel and on to lockdown.
The lockdown was to be reviewed after Easter and now we are moving towards an unspecified date. But still we are nudged along with daily Government updates supported by consistent messaging and any developments will be gradual. Nudge, nudge and say no more.