Skip to main content

Please enter a keyword and click the arrow to search the site

Prosocial nudges and visual indicators increase social distancing, but authoritative nudges do not


Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences



Authors / Editors

Banker M;Miller M;Voichek G;Goor D;Makov T


Publication Year



Social distancing reduces the transmission of COVID-19 and other airborne diseases. To test different ways to increase social distancing, we conducted a field experiment at a major US airport using a system that presented color-coded visual indicators on crowdedness. We complemented those visual indicators with nudges commonly used to increase COVID-19–preventive behaviors. Analyzing data from 57,146 travelers, we find that visual indicators and nudges significantly affected social distancing. Introducing visual indicators increased the share of travelers practicing social distancing, and this positive effect was enhanced by introducing nudges focused on personal benefits (“protect yourself”) and public benefits (“protect others”). Conversely, an authoritative nudge referencing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“don’t break CDC COVID-19 guidelines”) did not change social distancing behavior. Our results demonstrate that visual indicators and informed nudges can boost social distancing and potentially curb the spread of contagious diseases.


COVID-19; Public health messaging; Nudge; Reactance

Available on ECCH


Select up to 4 programmes to compare

Select one more to compare
subscribe_image_desktop 5949B9BFE33243D782D1C7A17E3345D0

Sign up to receive our latest news and business thinking direct to your inbox


Sign up to receive our latest course information and business thinking

Leave your details above if you would like to receive emails containing the latest thought leadership, invitations to events and news about courses that could enhance your career. If you would prefer not to receive our emails, you can still access the case study by clicking the button below. You can opt-out of receiving our emails at any time by visiting: or by unsubscribing through the link provided in our emails. View our Privacy Policy for more information on your rights.