Decision-making in the time of COVID-19
The COVID‑19 pandemic has led to an unprecedented global disruption, costing jobs and lives. Its effects can be halted or minimized if we adopt proper, flexible protective measures until a vaccine or treatment is available. But how do we increase the use of protective measures, such as hand washing and physical distancing, and promote the adoption of new measures, such as mask wearing and rotating schedules, as the economy reopens? People have a strong tendency to make choices that lead to immediate and certain rewards, while avoiding losses and placing less value on rewards that require waiting or that are uncertain, even when rewards are larger. These biases in our decision-making affect how likely we are to change our immediate behaviours in order to protect ourselves and other people. For over a decade, our team has studied this form of decision-making in Canada and parts of the world that were devastated early on by the pandemic (Italy), or that differed in their approaches to containing it (USA, New Zealand). We have succeeded in identifying effective ways to change these tendencies that can easily and rapidly be carried out, with high potential to make a real and sustained impact on the global fight against COVID-19. The aims of the proposed research are to 1. characterize and track biases in decision-making around people’s willingness to use protective measures, and 2. optimize a scientifically based intervention that can help people overcome biased decision-making by training them to imagine personal scenarios. We also will determine the effects of workplace learning of COVID‑19 health and safety measures on changes in decision-making and behaviour through our access to a pool of over 2.8 million frontline workers receiving such training. With the Public Health Agency of Canada as our Knowledge User, we can translate our findings into guidelines on when and how to safely lift restrictions on everyday activities while still under the threat of COVID-19.