The Covid-19 pandemic taught us about the integral role of behavioural science (alongside other sciences) in responding to major societal challenges. However, by the same token, it showed us the costs of making erroneous assumptions about the drivers of action and the limitations of the perspectives currently dominant in Government behavioural science. These focus on the limitations and the errors of decision making, particularly under conditions of stress. They lead to a paternalistic response whereby people are seen as frail, incapable of reasoning and influenced predominantly by changes in the choice architecture. That is, the people are the problem in the pandemic. Not only does this ignore the critical importance of social groups and social relations, it actively undermines the creation of positive social relations, of trust and a sense of common purpose. That is, it excludes consideration of the key to an effective response: how do we engage the public as a partner in a pandemic?
Stephen Reicher is a social psychologist who has been studying various aspects of group process (crowd behaviour, intergroup relations, obedience, leadership, toxic behaviour) for over 40 years He most recently researched group behaviour in the Covid pandemic, serving on the advisory groups to the UK Government (SPI-B) and Scottish Government and as a member of Independent SAGE. Stephen is currently Wardlaw Professor of Psychology at the University of St. Andrews, a Fellow of the British Academy, of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.