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Using Social Science to Aid in the Fight Against COVID-19

Part of the Hand washing, social distancing & behavior Series

While medical scientists and clinicians work to combat the coronavirus pandemic and save lives in labs and hospitals around the world, Duke professor Dan Ariely shared an analysis of the pandemic from a social science perspective during a live presentation on YouTube.

Speaking from Israel, where he’s advising the government on its COVID-19 response, Ariely outlined several ways he and colleagues have turned their attention to research supporting the pandemic response, including:

  • Helping create and communicate rules and restrictions in ways that make it easier for people to adhere to them.
  • Studying the learning experiences of teachers and students during this period of isolation to identify the most successful educational practices.
  • Developing technology to help reduce domestic violence.
  • Understanding how to structure economic stimulus measures for maximum effectiveness.
  • Understanding adjustments that will need to be made as people return to work, school and other normal activities.

Ariely also provided some practical advice for coping with the stress and uncertainty, noting it can be helpful for individuals to think about and focus on things they can do to exert control over their circumstances.

“We’re all victims of this global thing, but to be healthy we have to take control even on small things,” Ariely said.

Exercise, meditation, eating well, opening a rainy-day savings account and making a long-term plan for something to look forward to after the pandemic are all healthy and productive ways to exert a sense of control, he said.

A less helpful coping mechanism right now? Shopping therapy, Ariely cautioned, may make us feel a sense of control because we’re acquiring tangible objects, but is probably not the most advisable way to exert control at this time.


Meet the expert:

Dan Ariely is the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University and a founding member of the Center for Advanced Hindsight. He studies how people actually act in the marketplace, as opposed to how they should or would if they were rational beings. His bestselling books about behavioral economics include Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions, The Upside of Irrationality, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, Irrationally Yours: On Missing Socks, Pickup Lines, and Other Existential Puzzles, and most recently, Dollars and Sense: How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter

Read more news about Duke experts and the coronavirus pandemic here.