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Science, Policy and Pandemics: Insights from Behavioural Sciences

24 April 2020

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Reported by Kate McNeil, CSaP Communications Coordinator

As part of our series on Science, Policy and Pandemics, we asked: what can pscyhology tell us about the impacts of the isolation, stresses and tensions that people are living under in the context of the covid19 pandemic?

Listen to the discussion here:

Produced in partnership with Cambridge Infectious Diseases and the Cambridge Immunology Network, CSaP's Science and Policy Podcast's series on science, policy and pandemics aims to answer questions about our understanding of the current pandemic, including the epidemiology, on what basis governments are making current decisions, how much confidence we can have in the knowledge models are producing, and how to manage the uncertainties involved in the present crisis.

In this episode, Dr Rob Doubleday spoke with Dr Simone Schnall, Reader in Experimental Social Psychology, University of Cambridge and Dr Sander van der Linden, University Lecturer and Director of the Cambridge Social Decision-Making Laboratory, University of Cambridge, to discuss psychological aspects of the coronavirus pandemic, including the psychological aspects of isolation.

Dr Sander van der Linden noted that the pandemic is "as much behavioural as it is viral". Interactions between people is what underlies the spread of the virus, and how we think about human behaviour will be hugely influential in our management of the pandemic response. Here, Dr Schnall highlighted that, in their day to day lives, people draw upon resources, including concrete resources such as money and material resources, and psychological resources - namely social resources, social support, and social connections. The coronavirus has impacted individuals' access to all of these resources, and both experts highlighted that this impact needs to be considered as governments go forward in their reponses. This is particularly the case, Dr Sander van der Linden noted, when considering how government decisions interact with social inequality and the needs of those who already have limited access to the resources required for wellbeing.

Both experts also spoke about the role of public trust in official institutions, and how the approach taken by governments to communication and assistance will impact how well members of the public are able to cope with information overload, uncertainty, and self-isolation fatigue. Here, Dr Sander van der Linden noted that "we have lots of reason to believe that we can motivate people to follow public health guidelines using insights from behavioral science", while Dr Schnall gave the example of moral elevation as one way of building norms which encourage people to limit their social interactions in order to protect population health.


CSaP's Science and Policy Podcast's special series on Science, Policy and Pandemics is available accross all major podcasting platforms, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, RadioPublic, Pocket Casts, Overcast FM, TuneIn, and Castbox.

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash