The Power of a Nudge - In Times of Coronavirus

The world is far from perfect, neither is the information we have nor are the decisions we make (thanks to fake news and alternative facts). What we do have is the ability to gauge the situation and find the most optimal solution, which becomes a decision. Now, in order to help people make better decisions, we need nudges - these small pushes that direct people in the right direction and help them make better decisions.


Caged and bullied

So why do we need nudges during the time of coronavirus?


Coronavirus has created a new reality around us, the new normal is now staying at home and away from people. This situation defies our natural instincts of socialising, being with people and interacting with them. In many places, the government is gradually easing the lockdowns and workplaces and schools will soon start becoming active. When that happens, it is natural to have a desire to connect and be with people, however, the new normal has few restrictions.


Due to this, it is all the more necessary to remind people about the necessity of social distancing, sneezing in tissues or washing hands regularly. And this where nudges can help.

While a nudge in no means is a guarantee for protection against the virus, it serves as a gentle reminder of the situations we are in and aims to help people stay vigilant. A nudge can be a poster about washing hands, a bottle of sanitisers strategically placed in multiple locations or bright markings on the floor prompting a 6 feet distance.

While some nations are enforcing laws to curb the spread of the virus, there are some that have complimented law with behavioural science in order to help people remain calm and follow rules.


Here are a few examples of nudges and behavioural insights being used currently


  • New Zealand and the Easter Bunny

New Zealand under the leadership of Jacinda Arden, has received enormous praise from all around the world for controlling the spread of the virus. In an interview with the Washingtonian, Cass R. Sunstein mentioned how New Zealand had used the power of human behaviour and nudges to curb the virus. He says that the country has been smart about the way they have communicated with the people. While the rest of the world is struggling with antagonising news day after day, New Zealand has been focusing on being kind and happy. According to him, people are more likely to amend their behaviour when they view things with optimism and hope rather than fear. Jacinda Arden’s messaging has done just that. In a speech, she deemed the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy as essential workers.


This kind of communication has given people that assurance that things will be fine, and that while they need to be sensitive about the situation, they need not be worried.

“If the Easter bunny doesn’t make it to your household, then we have to understand that it’s a bit difficult at the moment,”

  • UNDP Somalia

The UNDP and the Somalian government employs influencers and community leaders to spread awareness on measures such as creating step by step videos on hand washing. By doing so, the government is trying to establish hygiene as a social norm. This is an example of the bandwagon