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.
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.
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.
The COVID-19 Government Response Event Dataset (CoronaNet v.1.0) compiles real time, publicly available (
Lopez and Rodo explore post-lockdown scenarios by using a stochastic modified SEIR model, showing that lockdowns should last at least 60 days to avoid a second wave of infection. Social distancing, increasing awareness and personal protective behaviours could replace lockdowns.
Fusing models from epidemiology and network science, Block et al. show how to ease lockdown and slow infection spread by strategic modification of contact through seeking similarity, strengthening communities and repeating interaction in bubbles.
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.
Thirty-two experts propose ten considerations for managing the de-escalation of COVID-19 containment measures while still maintaining public adherence to social and physical distancing.
Forty-three experts highlight some key insights from the social and behavioural sciences for effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic and point out important gaps researchers should move quickly to fill in the coming weeks and months.
Behaviour change is crucial to preventing SARS-CoV-2 transmission in the absence of pharmaceutical interventions. West et al. argue that we urgently need effective interventions to increase adherence to personal protective behaviours.
Comment & Opinion
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.
Politicians may present themselves as merely implementing scientific advice, but Alex Stevens argues that, when science meets politics, it can be a case of survival of the ideas that fit.
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.
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.
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.
The stock market provides a view of what investors expect for the future. It is precisely in complex situations such as the COVID-19 outbreak that the prescience of the market is particularly valuable, argues Alexander F. Wagner.
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.
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.
The global practice of monetizing ecosystems to further national economic development has laid fertile ground for the COVID-19 pandemic and others like it, writes Cobus van Staden.