In March the United Kingdom curiously declined to impose significant social distancing measures in response to the global pandemic. The government was taking advice from several parties, among them the so-called “Nudge Unit,” a private company called Behavioral Insights Team, which uses behavioral science to advise U.K. policymakers on how to “nudge” people toward certain actions. Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, reportedly cited “behavioral fatigue,” the idea that the public’s commitment to the measures would fade over time, as a policy concern in government meetings. This shaped the country’s pandemic response despite challenge on the idea from the Nudge Unit, led by experimental psychologist David Halpern.* The lax measures sparked fierce backlash not just from epidemiologists concerned about the virus’ spread, but also from a group of 600 behavioral scientists—psychologists, sociologists, economists, political scientists, and more. They signed an open letter doubting the quality of the evidence that led to the government’s decision.
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