What I’m Reading These Days

BC Behavioural Insights Group (BC BIG)
BC BIG Ideas
Published in
5 min readJul 20, 2020


The COVID-19 pandemic has radically changed all of our lives, at home and at work. Here at the BC Behavioural Insights Group, we’ve rapidly redeployed several of our team members to support the BC Government’s response. We look forward to sharing our thoughts and learnings with you here on our blog, in a series we’re calling BIG Ideas: Behavioural Science and COVID-19.

In this blog, the third in the series, we’ll look at the relevance of behavioural science during the pandemic and some timely articles, blogs, and webinars that you can check out.

We’re hearing it repeatedly — without a vaccine, the most effective tool we have to suppress the spread of the coronavirus is massive widespread behaviour change. So, what’s the best way to promote these desired behaviours (increase hand washing, staying home) and discourage harmful ones (panic buying, sharing false information)? This question requires a rich understanding of what’s shaping our actions during this time and a set of tools to measure the effectiveness of various interventions.

It is for this reason that many governments around the world are looking to behavioural science for support in their efforts to ‘bend the curve’. While behavioural science is certainly not a panacea, the insights around human judgement and principles of evaluation are important components of a multidimensional response. The field offers insights derived from decades of research on what drives our actions. It also brings a framework and methods necessary to conduct rigorous evaluations capable of identifying effective strategies for behaviour change. Policymakers have been quick to recognize this, and the behavioural science community has been quick to respond.

Academics and other behavioural science experts are working across borders and research domains to help address these complex and unfamiliar challenges. Research that would have otherwise taken years to plan, execute, and publish is being produced in a matter of weeks in an effort to provide timely support to decision-makers. These preprints (studies published prior to peer review) are being shared broadly with caveats and pleas to ‘consider the findings preliminary’. In addition to this incredible work, we are seeing blogs, interviews, and podcasts from practitioners and academics circulate with fervour.

So, while many of the facets of my life have slowed down dramatically in the past six weeks, I’m grateful that I have been anything but bored. If you’re also interested in the field of behavioural science, or if the COVID-19 crisis has simply made you more aware of human behaviour, the good news is that there is a lot of content out there for you to explore.

Having said that, anyone familiar with behavioural science knows that more doesn’t always equal better. An abundance of options may actually feel overwhelming. To help with that, I’ve compiled a few blogs, podcasts, and videos that you may find valuable. Behind many of them are detailed research findings from academic publications, which I encourage you to explore. I hope that you find at least one discovery contained within these links to help you reframe your work, manage the challenges you’re facing, or better understand these strange times we’re living in.

General behavioural science theory applied to the COVID-19 crisis

Crushing coronavirus means ‘breaking habits of a lifetime’. Behavioral scientists have some tips — Science — Read [8 min]

Summary of a recent publication from 40 scientists that explores relevant behavioural science research including the gaps in knowledge that need to be addressed as the pandemic unfolds.

LIVE: Dan Ariely on COVID-19 — Center for Advanced Hindsight — Watch [60 min]

Predictably Irrational author provides a behavioural science perspective on the crisis including how he has collaborated with the Israeli government to support their response.

Why we underestimated COVID-19 — The New Yorker — Podcast [11 min]

Nobel Prize-winning behavioural scientist Daniel Kahneman discusses why the threat of the pandemic was so difficult for us to wrap our heads around.

What the coronavirus teaches us about climate change — Politico — Read [7 min]

The psychological phenomenon that makes thinking about the COVID-19 crisis similar to thinking about climate change.

Understanding our limits and our blind spots

Epistemic Humility — Knowing your limits in a pandemic — The Behavioral Scientist — Read [7 min]

The importance of reflecting on our knowledge and overconfidence.

Responding to COVID-19 in the developing world — The Behavioral Scientist — Read [8 min]

The risk of relying on tactics grounded in universal tendencies and the critical need to understand context — especially during a pandemic.

Designing and evaluating government COVID-19 communications

Messaging that hits home: 5 tips from tests underway in U.S. cities — Bloomberg Cities — Read [4 min]

An overview of various messaging tests that are underway using behavioural science methods.

Bright infographics & minimal text make handwashing posters most effective — result from an online experiment — Behavioural Insights Team — Read [3 min]

UK BIT’s rapid test to identify an effective way to communicate and encourage thorough hand washing.

Making Government COVID-19 Communications More Effective — Ideas42 — Read [5 min]

Quick and actionable guidance on developing communications during this time.

How to communicate effectively with the public during COVID-19 — Apolitical — Watch [60 min]

Webinar interview with behavioural scientists Molly Crockett and Johannes Haushofer as well as communications expert Emily Falk.

What have you been reading? Watching? Listening to?

Feel free to share anything that you think our team and other readers may find valuable.

For more information on COVID-19, visit the BC Public Service Support and Information Page (gov.bc.ca/covid).

Mikayla Ford

Mikayla is a Methods Specialist with the BC Behavioural Insights Group.



BC Behavioural Insights Group (BC BIG)
BC BIG Ideas

BC BIG is a corporate unit in the British Columbia Public Service that uses behavioural science to improve services for citizens and society.