Focus |

COVID-19 and human behaviour

Human behaviour has been critical in shaping the COVID-19 pandemic, and the actions of individuals, groups, nation states and international bodies all have a role to play in curbing its spread. This means that insights from behavioural, social and health sciences are and will continue to be invaluable throughout the course of the pandemic. In this Focus, we bring together original research and expert viewpoints from a broad spectrum of disciplines that provide insight into the causes, impacts, and mitigation of the pandemic, highlighting how research on individual and collective behaviour can contribute to an effective response.

Editorial

The COVID-19 pandemic rendered 2020 a year like no other in recent history. Although 2021 starts hopeful—with COVID-19 vaccines already being rolled out in more than 30 countries—the fight against the pandemic is far from over.

Editorial | | Nature Human Behaviour

Insight into human behaviour is key to understanding both the systemic causes of the COVID-19 pandemic and how we can act to mitigate its impacts. Both now and in its wake, we have the capacity to shape and reshape the world we live in.

Editorial | | Nature Human Behaviour

There is no business-as-usual during this uniquely challenging time. Here is what we are doing to help the scientific community both in providing much needed evidence to guide policy and in managing the personal impacts of the pandemic on individual researchers.

Editorial | | Nature Human Behaviour

Research (2021)

The Our World in Data COVID-19 vaccination tracker charts the scale and rate of global vaccinations against COVID-19, making the data available to scientists, policymakers and the general public

Resource | | Nature Human Behaviour

Research (2020)

Druckman et al. use a two-wave survey fielded before and during the COVID-19 pandemic to study the relationship between affective polarization and issue positions. They find an association between previous out-party animus and COVID-19 policy beliefs, and local context moderates this relationship.

Article | | Nature Human Behaviour

Using a US state-level Bayesian susceptible, exposed, infectious, removed (SEIR) compartmental model, the authors demonstrate that, in almost all states, doubling rates of contact tracing and testing while also rolling back reopening by 25–50% via social distancing can mitigate the resurgence of COVID-19.

Article | | Nature Human Behaviour

Guan et al. analyse the impacts of COVID-19 restrictions on global supply chains. Earlier, stricter and shorter lockdowns can minimize overall losses. A ‘go-slow’ approach to lifting restrictions may reduce overall damages if it avoids the need for further lockdowns.

Article | | Nature Human Behaviour

Comment & Opinion

At the time that COVID-19 began to take hold in India, a group of Indian scientists came together to combat what Reeteka Sud describes as one of the most potent threats: the spread of misinformation fueling the pandemic.

World View | | Nature Human Behaviour

The impact of pandemics is magnified by the coexistence of two contradicting reactions to rare dire risks: panic and the ‘it won’t happen to me’ effect that hastens spread of the disease. We review research that clarifies the conditions that trigger the two biases, and we highlight the potential of gentle rule enforcement policies that can address these problematic conditions.

Comment | | Nature Human Behaviour

COVID-19 has not affected all scientists equally. A survey of principal investigators indicates that female scientists, those in the ‘bench sciences’ and, especially, scientists with young children experienced a substantial decline in time devoted to research. This could have important short- and longer-term effects on their careers, which institution leaders and funders need to address carefully.

Comment | | Nature Human Behaviour

The scientific community’s response to COVID-19 has resulted in a large volume of research moving through the publication pipeline at extraordinary speed, with a median time from receipt to acceptance of 6 days for journal articles. Although the nature of this emergency warrants accelerated publishing, measures are required to safeguard the integrity of scientific evidence.

Comment | | Nature Human Behaviour

The debate over whether autocracies or democracies are better at fighting epidemics is misguided. Under President Xi Jinping’s centralized command, his administration has both succeeded and failed at handling the COVID-19 crisis. While it effectively curbed infections within China after the virus had spread, it failed to stem the outbreak before it went global.

Comment | | Nature Human Behaviour

COVID-19 has started to reach Africa, a continent that has in recent decades faced the ongoing HIV/AIDS pandemic and the Ebola epidemic of 2014–2016. Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, talks to Nature Human Behaviour about the African response to COVID-19.

Q&A | | Nature Human Behaviour

Growth-at-any-cost economics has health costs, a reality the COVID-19 pandemic brings into sharp relief. Governments must manage the tension between economics and health, but they should not stray from their original mandate to protect people. Too much dependence on the private sector weakened pandemic response, argues Susan Erikson.

World View | | Nature Human Behaviour

In the current absence of medical treatment and vaccination, the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic can only be brought under control by massive and rapid behaviour change. To achieve this we need to systematically monitor and understand how different individuals perceive risk and what prompts them to act upon it, argues Cornelia Betsch.

World View | | Nature Human Behaviour

The human tendency to impose a single interpretation in ambiguous situations carries huge dangers in addressing COVID-19. We need to search actively for multiple interpretations, and governments need to choose policies that are robust if their preferred theory turns out to be wrong, argues Nick Chater.

World View | | Nature Human Behaviour