The answers to these questions – and so many other perplexities of human behaviour – are the domain of behavioural science.
“Often we don’t realise that our attitude toward something has been influenced by the number of times we have been exposed to it in the past.”
– Robert Cialdini
Misinformation: Talking to the other side
This Mail & Guardian webinar was sponsored by The Behaviour Change Agency. Speakers included Antoine Ferrere, Global Head of Behavioural Science at Novartis, Switzerland; Matthew Battersby, Chief Behavioural Scientist at Reinsurance Group of America, United Kingdom; Aimee Wesso, Advanced Strategic Specialist at Afrocentric Group; Pat Govender, Founder and Managing Director of The Behaviour Change Agency and Dr Anam Nyembezi, Behavioural Medicine Specialist and a Senior Lecturer in the School of Public Health, University of the Western Cape.
One of the positive experiences during two years of pandemic gloom has been the speed of scientific progress in understanding and treating Covid. Many effective vaccines were launched in less than a year and rapid large-scale trials found a cheap and effective drug, dexamethasone, that saved thousands of lives. The global scientific community has also carried out “genomic surveillance” – sequencing the genome of the virus to track how it evolves and spreads at an unprecedented level: the public genome database has more than 5.5m genomes. The great value of that genomic surveillance, underpinned by a commitment to rapid and open sharing of the data by all countries in near-real time, has been seen in the last few days as we’ve learned of the Covid variant called Omicron.
Publicity has been given to the planned creation of a ‘metaverse’ by Facebook. A ‘metaverse’ is a term given to the evolution of the internet into a virtual world in which people interact through digital selves or avatars. According to Facebook: “In the coming years ... people will transition from seeing us primarily as a social media company to seeing us as a metaverse company … In many ways the metaverse is the ultimate expression of social technology.”1 The motivation behind this development is somewhat unclear, and the public justifications given by the company to date are scientifically incoherent or improbable. However, there is research evidence that helps us understand the likely outcomes of a metaverse for mental health.
Now that the FDA approved emergency-use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children 5 to 11 years old, it’s essential for as many as possible to get vaccinated. But successfully rolling out the vaccine to young children will require a different approach than for adults. The FDA approval represents a watershed moment in the fight against COVID-19, yet many parents, even those who are vaccinated themselves, are hesitant to vaccinate their children.
It suits governments to lecture us on our consumption, but they need to offer systemic change if we are to tackle the climate crisis. The protesters gathered in Glasgow for Cop26 are a diverse group – at the demonstration on Saturday I watched everybody file past – from international socialists to Scottish nationalists, healthcare workers to striking refuse workers, from indigenous activists at the very front to cycling enthusiasts at the very back.