Closing the Intention-Behavior Gap
We will all remember 2020 as the year that the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the world, representing an extraordinary challenge to the maintenance of our wellbeing (Pennycook et al., 2020), reshaping our societies and economies (Baggio, 2020). “We’re all participants in the world’s largest natural experiment in behavior change” (Grant & Rebele, 2020). Not surprisingly, people are now anxious about their health and financial situation (Sunstein, 2020; Timsit, 2020), trying to minimize their chances of being infected (Hallsworth, 2020). The containment of COVID-19 is highly dependent on people’s collective decision-making. In other words, during a pandemic, an individual’s decision becomes a community matter (Baggio, 2020; Kwon, 2020).
These past weeks we have witnessed rising death tolls, unconventional government responses to COVID-19, and our daily routines being completely altered around the globe (Shaw, 2020). It has been a widespread phenomenon to see nervous customers overspending on items such as toilet paper, hand sanitizers, or pasta, leaving supermarket shelves bare (Smith & Klemm, 2020). Over the next few weeks, most of us will stay locked in our apartments and will have to decide whether to be entirely safe and #stayathome (Klitzman, 2020) or to go out to do groceries in a self-made protective gear, which will never be 100% virus-proof. Luckily, there exist guidelines for healthy habits formation that are universally accepted to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19. Some people say, however, that following these guidelines is easier said than done.
There are many valid reasons we are not so good at building simple habits like washing hands for 20 seconds or not touching our faces. We may be tired, busy, or distracted (Dai et al., 2015), which is an excellent example of the intention-behavior gap (Sheeran & Webb, 2016). While we may have an intention to wash our hands, the immediate context may mean we do not follow through. In practice, intentions don’t always translate into actions (Holzwarth, 2020).
Psychologists sometimes describe the barrier to behavior change as an intention-behavior gap (Milkman et al., 2008). One solution to closing this gap is to “turn shoulds into wants” (Grant & Rebele, 2020). But when it comes to avoiding the spread of COVID-19, that behavioral transformation doesn’t come naturally, because there exists a considerable difference between knowing how we can close the gap and actually closing it (Grant & Rebele, 2020; Hallsworth, 2020). Therefore, now more than ever, it is crucial to develop evidence-based methodologies and interventions to identify and reduce the intention-behavior gap.
Behavioral Science vs. the Pandemic
How to behave responsibly to “flatten the curve” is not only challenging to communicate, it is also difficult to follow, even for people with the best of intentions (Tantia & Perez, 2020). Luckily, behavioral science research helps us understand the “how” and “why” of human behavior. Thus, researchers around the world have been working to identify the critical behavioral enablers of acting responsibly to minimize the risk of contracting or further spreading the virus (Tantia & Perez, 2020; Kwon, 2020).
One way of helping people to control the spread of contagion and to deal with the emotional distress associated with COVID-19 (Taylor, 2020) is to create default decisions that guide people toward healthier behaviors, a different way is to use nudges, which steer people in particular directions without imposing coercion (Van Bavel et al., 2020). Yet another way is to run behavioral economics assessments to better understand and predict people’s behavior, which can help to incentivize them towards behaving responsibly.
Given Behave4’s experience in the study of human behavior, we know the importance of associating the present circumstances to people’s behavior to be able to predict patterns and design effective interventions. As a pioneering company in the application of Behavioral Economics techniques to Human Resources management (see Samson, 2019), we wanted to put our expertise in evaluating behavioral profiles at the service of the study of the COVID-19 crisis.
Our pilot study is based on the use of our individual measures of preferences and behaviors, obtained through economic games, to predict several variables of interest as we do in one of our most demanded services at Behave4. In the case of our corporate clients, the variables that are typically predicted are the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). During this pilot study, however, we have focused on two main variables related to the study goals: people’s concern about the COVID-19 crisis and their perception about the possibility of having been infected by the virus (Behave4, 2020).
Due to the data collected in our pilot study, based on economic games, we have been able to achieve fascinating findings by merging the COVID-19 crisis and people’s behavioral styles. One of the pilot study results indicates that perceiving a greater risk for one’s health, i.e., a higher probability of being infected is associated with a stronger short-run orientation (Behave4, 2020). If you want to learn more about this and many other critical results on how the COVID-19 pandemic affects human behavior, we offer you free access to the full version of our study “Behavioral Economics Assessments in Times of Pandemic” with comprehensive study results here.
Have a look at our Behavioral Diagnosis platform and explore what else Behave4 can offer you if you want to know your employees better by applying the “Know Your People” framework with 30+ behavioral variables customizable to your company’s needs and pre-tested at large scale before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. This way, you can extract meaningful results for your business on how to become behavioral agile and thrive in the post-crisis world based on evidence-based Behavioral Economics methodology.
by Wiktoria Salwa, Contributing Writer at Behave4
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