In an article in the Critic, I discussed the remit of the Government’s behavioural scientists in 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 communications strategy. The methods of influence recommended by the SPI-B are drawn from a range of ‘nudges’ described in the Institute of Government document, MINDSPACE: Influencing behaviour through public policy, several of which primarily act on the subconscious of their targets – the British people – achieving a covert influence on their behaviour. The three ‘nudges’ to have evoked the most controversy, among both psychological practitioners and the general public, are: the strategic use of fear (inflating perceived threat levels); shame (conflating compliance with virtue); and peer pressure (portraying non-compliers as a deviant minority) – or ‘affect’, ‘ego’ and ‘norms’, to use the language of behavioural science. (Specific examples of how each of these covert strategies have been used throughout the Covid crisis are described here).
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