The significant role of behavioral science in vaccination against Covid-19.

Behavioral scientists around the world emphasize the importance of using their expertise to encourage more people to do the right thing. We asked Tim Isaksson, Research Manager at Nudgd, for his opinion on what factors are influencing our decision and which nudges can be used to increase uptake.

It’s very important for us as industry leaders to do right now, to try to save lives. Behavioral science can help and we have the knowledge needed”

Tim Isaksson, Research Manager Nudgd

Why is it important that those in charge of the vaccin distribution use your expertise in nudging and behavioral science in the vaccination campaign?

Behavioral scientists are experts in identifying the underlying factors of behavior as well as designing and evidence testing solutions. We can help save lives, quite simply. Unfortunately, behavioral expertise is still often lacking in these type of authorities. authorities – nor can the media be overlooked.

What are the main factors influencing our decisions when it comes to Covid vaccine?

That depends on the type of groups. Most people who potentially will not be vaccinated, or do not do so quickly enough, will end up there for passive reasons. They may have difficulty keeping up with everyday life, postponing it again and again, or be a little worried or hesitant. Then there is also a small group that is more active in their resistance, which is more ideologically driven. However, it is important to both understand and show empathy because their hesitation is primarily based on fears.

Can you tell us a little more about the underlying factors and nudging strategies that are adapted for more passive vaccine resistance?

When it comes to the group that is hindered by more passive factors, e.g. three types of cognitive barriers are particularly important to tackle.

To avoid friction means that it should be easy to do the right thing The fewer obstacles and the less work / thought activity required, the better. Every extra minute it takes to get vaccinated counts. It is therefore very important to reduce the distances, increase accessibility and make it easier for those who are to be vaccinated. It can e.g. is about communicating in more languages, transporting people or giving employees extra time off so as not to have to work the next day. In addition, the following evidence-based nudges can be used.

  • Default Instead of having to go through a cumbersome booking process via an app or a phone call, make sure everyone is automatically called for vaccination. This becomes especially important for vaccines that require two doses. If the person can not make it, rebooking should be as easy as possible.
  • Friendly reminders are tested and have previously been shown to work well for vaccination. Not just one reminder but preferably several, via many different communication channels: SMS, email, letter, telephone. “Tease”, in a friendly way. A couple of researchers suggested nice two-piece bracelets, where you get the first part at the first dose and then at the second dose the second part, which makes the bracelet even nicer and fun to show off.

Omission biasthe tendency to favor an act of omission (non-action) over one of commision, when we actively do something. A suitable nudge could be to

  • communicate social norms . By showing that most others are willing to get vaccinated, we can influence those who hesitate for various reasons, including omission bias. Examples of social evidence are stickers / signs / symbols that both people, organizations and establishments can show to the outside world both physically and digitally. It’s always important to test on a small scale first, to make sure that the social evidence is working in favor of the vaccination. Never hand out things randomly and hope that they are used the right way, nudge it in different ways: motivate it, remind it and ask people to promise to do it – nudge for a nudge!

Over-optimism is a very strong and widespread cognitive barrier. Many people think that “it does not happen to me” and now that the majority have not been infected for a whole year, the feeling becomes even stronger. This is about giving people as few excuses as possible for not getting vaccinated. A possible nudge here could be:

  • avoid the needles. Many people are afraid of syringes, especially down the ages. The media should use fewer such images and instead more often remind us why we vaccinate ourselves, e.g. with more pictures from inside the intensive care units.

Can you tell us a bit more about the underlying factors and nudging strategies that are adapted for more active vaccine resistance?

When it comes to people that are hindered by more active factors, I would like to mention four other types of cognitive barriers – accessibility bias, confirmation bias and natural risk bias as well as distrust of authorities.

Accessibility bias is about our brains being bad at considering factors in decision-making that we have not seen or heard much about lately. Here, the media has an extra big role to play, as do all of us who can nudge by

  • reminding about the context. When reporting side effects, emphasize that most are mild and show that this is part of the process – and, above all, that almost no one experiences any serious side effects. Thus, include clear figures of the majority not experiencing any serious side effects. Thus, include clear figures that everything is going perfectly for the overwhelming majority.

Confirmation bias the fact that we tend to seek out information from sources we already prefer in advance and deliberately ignore facts from elsewhere. Thankfully, it is possible to “nudge around” this strong cognitive barrier by:

  • using converted messengers. Often the most efficient messenger is someone who previously thought just like the audience but then changed his or her mind. The reason why the person changed should preferably be that something happened to the person, and this is exactly something the person openly tells about. These so-called “Convert communicators” should be recruited as ambassadors to specific subgroups.

Natural risk bias is about us assessing natural risks as more acceptable than risks created by humans. The following nudge suggestions can help here

  • Replace suspicions with a clear explanation: If we have to talk about the vaccine being developed at record speed, then tell us why it has gone fast: Thanks to a huge global investment with never-before-seen collaboration between researchers and companies.

In addition to these three factors, I would also like to mention a distrust of authorities. It is difficult and perhaps not even desirable to do something about this with nudging, but there are ways to nudge communication to at least not aggravate the situation and ways to nudge to let subgroups be convinced by their own instead of by outsiders.

  • Test and target your message. Use focus groups and panels to test different messages for different target groups. What works best? Profit or loss argument? Protect yourself or protect others? Emphasize the risk of remorse for not having been vaccinated? What values and group identities does it work well to relate to?
  • Communicate dynamic social norms, e.g: ”The 10th of January 40 % of the population testified they were going to take the vaccin. The 25th of January 50 %. Today, the 10th of February 60 %, and we are expecting this positivive trend to continue. As humans we are social creators, we don’t want to be left behind.

Do you need our help in creating the conditions for optimal vaccine uptake? We are happy to help apply these and other nudges in practice – get in touch and we’ll book a first consultation.

Hereyou can find more information if you are interested in learning more.

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