Monday, July 20, 2020

How Governments Manipulate Our Behaviour - Resistance is Futile

In stumbling around on the internet as I am prone to do, I found, what I consider to be, one of the most interesting documents that I have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.  As I have stated previously, one thing that I have felt over the past few months is that we are being manipulated into .... 


The document is entitled "Options for increasing adherence to social distancing measures" and was posted on the website of the United Kingdom's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) Coronavirus response on March 22, 2020 as shown here:



The paper was written by the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours or SPI-B a group that is tasked with "providing advice aimed at anticipating and helping people adhere to inventions that are recommended by medical or epidemiological experts, in other words, a "behavioural manipulation group".  Here is a list of members noting that 4 members have not been given permission for their names to be released to the public:


With that background, let's take a deeper look at the paper.  The paper opens with this question:


"What are the options for increasing adherence to the social distancing measures?"


The authors of the paper go on to look two social distancing measures; general social distancing by everyone and shielding for society's most vulnerable people for at least a 12 week period of time.  The authors note that these two measures are not mutually exclusive and that, in fact, evidence shows that to overcome public reluctance to adopt the changes in behaviour mandated by government during the COVID-19 pandemic, the greatest behavioural change is "achieved by interventions that operate at many levels simultaneously.


Here are the nine broad ways that behaviours can be changed:









Environmental Restructuring 



Now, let's look at the behavioural changes that the government wanted to enact, particularly social distancing by everyone since it has been part of the pandemic plan for many nations:


Here is the guidance from the British Government:



The authors claim that there are several problems with this guidance and how this problems can be fixed to ensure maximum obedience to the government edicts:


a.) Education - the guidance is not clear and specific with regards to recommendations as quoted here:


"The guidance currently lacks clarity and specificity with regards to recommended behaviours. For example, instead of the phrase ‘try to’, it should just say ‘do’. Phrases such as ‘as much as is practicable’, ‘non-essential’, ‘significantly limit’, and ‘gathering’ are open to wide differences in interpretation. This can lead to confusion about exactly what people are being required to do (e.g. gathering outside or going for walks). Guidance now needs to be reformulated to be behaviourally specific: who needs to do what (precisely) and why (explain the rationale) and communicated through channels that provide personalised advice and account for individual circumstances including SMS messaging and an interactive website."


b.) Persuasion - Since it became apparent that some people did not feel personally threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic (possibly because of a low death-rate in their demographic group), the authors recommend that: 


"The perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent, using hard-hitting emotional messaging. To be effective this must also empower people by making clear the actions they can take to reduce the threat."


People also need to be made aware that they have a responsibility to others as quoted here:


"There seems to be insufficient understanding of, or feelings of responsibility about, people’s role in transmitting the infection to others. This may have resulted in part from messaging around the low level of risk to most people and talk of the desirability of building ‘herd immunity’. Messaging needs to emphasise and explain the duty to protect others."


...and here:


"People need to see self-protective actions in positive terms and feel confident that they will be effective. Individuals also need to understand that the survival of the severely ill will be increased by the capacity of the health care system, which in turn will be increased by reducing the rise in infections now. Messaging about actions need to be framed positively in terms of protecting oneself and the community, and increase confidence that they will be effective."


c.) Incentivization - The use of social approval/peer pressure can become a powerful reward for creating behavioural changes as quoted here:


"Social approval can be a powerful source of reward. Not only can this be provided directly by highlighting examples of good practice and providing strong social encouragement and approval in communications; members of the community can be encouraged to provide it to each other. This can have a beneficial spill-over effect of promoting social cohesion.  Communication strategies should provide social approval for desired behaviours and promote social approval within the community."


This may explain why we are hearing stories about unmasked people being attacked while shopping since this behaviour goes against what is currently socially acceptable, at least in the eyes of government.


d.) Coercion - Governments generally use compulsion (i.e. legal means) to force behavioural changes (i.e. mandatory seat belts and motor cycle helmets).  Here is a quote from the paper:


"Some other countries have introduced mandatory self-isolation on a wide scale without evidence of major public unrest and a large majority of the UK’s population appear to be supportive of more coercive measures. For example, 64% adults in Great Britain said they would support putting London under a ‘lock down’. However, data from Italy and South Korea suggest that for aggressive protective measures to be effective, special attention should be devoted to those population groups that are more at risk. In addition, communities need to be engaged to minimise risk of negative effects. Consideration should be given to enacting legislation, with community involvement, to compel key social distancing measures."


Further to the concept of social approval/peer pressure, we have social disapproval which can discourage the failure of individuals to act on a pro-social manner.  This can play a key role in modifying behaviours (i.e. drunk driving laws).  The authors note the following:


"...this needs to be carefully managed to avoid victimisation, scapegoating and misdirected criticism. It needs to be accompanied by clear messaging and promotion of strong collective identity. Consideration should be given to use of social disapproval but with a strong caveat around unwanted negative consequences."


e.) Enablement - Since people are being asked to give up resources (like wages, fun, restaurant meals, a night at the pub), they need to be compensated for their loss and to be given access for opportunities for socialization and rewarding activities in their homes (i.e. the use of social media platforms, drinks with friends who are all still in their own homes).  The authors recommend that "...adequately resourced community infrastructure and mobilization needs to be developed rapidly and with coverage across all communities."   The authors also state the following:


"Adherence to these measures is likely to be undermined by perceived inequity in their impact on different sections of the population, especially those who are already disadvantaged, e.g. those in rented accommodation and those working in precarious employment. Reducing costs of phone calls, data downloads etc. by ‘responsibility deals’ or government subsidies should be considered.  Sections of the population who are particularly adversely affected need to be identified and steps taken to mitigate the adverse impact on their lives."


As you see, government manipulation of your behaviour during the pandemic is not a figment of your imagination.

Let's close this posting with a thought.  We have been repeatedly told during this pandemic that "science" is driving the agenda, albeit science that changes on a daily basis with very little attention actually being paid to the scientific method by the vast majority of decision makers who are in charge of our lives.  In fact, this document from the British government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies shows us that science is, in fact, being used during the pandemic, it's just that it's behavioural science aimed at changing our behaviours and making us more amenable to societal changes that we may not otherwise have accepted.  There is no doubt that governments around the world have used the behavioural modification methods outlined in this paper and should consider that they have been  been very successful at instilling fear in billions of people.


For some reason, and for those Trekkies amongst us, the phrase, "We are the Borg.  You will be assimilated.  Resistance is futile." comes to mind.  I don't know why.


1 comment:

  1. Purifying water and piping it to homes and than safely removing household effluvia is comparatively easy (several orders of magnitude) compared with the desire to provide uncontaminated air to individuals. In this case vaccines are the best, hands down, but corona-viruses are finicky in this respect (no vaccine yet for MERS and SARS).

    What then would have operational arms of governments, where usually professional class is located, do, when dealing with airborne viruses that have a higher than usual infectious rate and virulence?