We didn’t sign a consent form, but we’re all participants in the world’s largest natural experiment in behavior change. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, millions if not billions of people around the globe are pleading for systemic solutions. In the meantime, we’re all trying to do what we can to flatten the curve of this crisis by not getting sick.
The best practices are well known: Keep your distance, wash your hands, don’t touch your face. But there’s a big difference between knowing and doing. How can we close that gap?
Psychologists sometimes describe the barrier to behavior change as the conflict between wants and shoulds. We know we should choose the side salad, but we want the basket of fries. We know we should save more for a rainy day, but we want to upgrade our iPhone.
We’ve been studying a different solution: Instead of trying to transform our shoulds, amplify them.
Years ago, one of us (Adam Grant) partnered with his fellow psychologist David Hofmann on experiments to motivate health-care workers to practice better hand hygiene at work. We put up alternating signs in different bathrooms around a hospital, and we evaluated their impact by measuring the amount of soap and hand sanitizer used in each location—and by having covert observers on each unit track behavior.
The first sign tried to turn hand-washing into a want by emphasizing personal consequences: “Hand hygiene prevents you from getting diseases.” But it didn’t work—in areas with that sign, doctors and nurses didn’t wash any more often and went through soap and sanitizer at the usual rate. But the second sign amplified the should factor by reminding the doctors and nurses of the pro-social consequences of their behavior: “Hand hygiene prevents patients from getting diseases.” Where the second sign was posted, doctors and nurses washed 11 percent more often and used 45 percent more soap and gel.
The psychology underlying the failure of the first sign and the success of the second is simple: When we consider our own susceptibility, we fall victim to the illusion of invulnerability. Germs are no match for me! But when we think about others, we’re more realistic about the risks.
Read the whole story: The Atlantic