The power of visual indicators and prosocial nudges

New research shows that authoritative nudges are less likely to drive desired behaviour than those that speak to public benefit


When COVID-19 first appeared, the infectious nature of the virus led to panic setting in across the globe. Many countries shut their borders to prevent the spread of infection and various ways of combatting the disease were introduced to try and prevent unnecessary deaths. The UK initially introduced a “hands, face, space” mantra to encourage people to wash their hands, refrain from touching their faces and keep socially distant. Social distancing is not something that most people were familiar with pre-pandemic and it met with varying degrees of success. So what is the best way to encourage people to maintain social distancing?

This is the question that Dafna Goor, Assistant Professor of Marketing at LBS, sought to answer with collaborators from the Yale School of Management, Imperial College Business School, Reichman University, and Ben Gurion University of the Negev. They found that authoritative nudges, such as requests to follow public health guidelines, are not particularly effective. In fact, people react much better to messages that highlight that social distancing is for their own benefit or the benefit of others.

The research findings feature in a recent Forbes article looking at the best way to get people to act in a socially responsible manner, something that has wider significance beyond the Coronavirus public health crisis.