The British public’s widespread compliance with lockdown restrictions and the subsequent vaccine rollout has been the most remarkable aspect of the coronavirus crisis.
The removal of our basic freedoms — in the form of lockdowns, travel bans and mandatory mask wearing — have been passively accepted by the large majority of people. Furthermore, the proportion of the general public expressing a willingness to accept the Covid-19 vaccines has been greater in the UK than almost anywhere else in the world. But has the government achieved this widespread conformity through the unethical use of covert psychological strategies — “nudges” — in their messaging campaign ?
A major contributor to the mass obedience of the British people is likely to have been the activities of government-employed psychologists working as part of the “Behavioural Insights Team” (BIT). The BIT was conceived in 2010 as “the world’s first government institution dedicated to the application of behavioural science to policy”. In collaboration with governments and other stakeholders, the team aspire to use behavioural insights to “improve people’s lives and communities”. Several members of BIT, together with other psychologists, currently sit on the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (SPI-B), a subgroup of SAGE, which offers advice to the government about how to maximise the impact of its Covid-19 communications.