Behavioural science key to success of ‘test and trace’ app

16th June 2020

With the new Covid 19 digital contact tracing app requiring people to perform at least four inter-related behaviours, experts have recommended that behavioural science is integrated within both the app itself and all associated communications.

With the new Covid 19 digital contact tracing app requiring people to perform at least four inter-related behaviours, experts have recommended that behavioural science is integrated within both the app itself and all associated communications if it is to be fit for purpose.

The British Psychological Society (BPS) has this week published a briefing informed by leading behavioural psychologists, which highlights the importance of behavioural science in the success of the government’s new digital contact tracing app.

The organisation has called for further research to be undertaken to help understand and overcome the potential barriers to people using the app.

Madelynne Arden, Professor of Health Psychology, and Director of Centre for Behavioural Science and Applied Psychology at Sheffield Hallam University and lead author of ‘Behavioural science and success of the proposed UK digital contact tracing application for Covid 19’ briefing, said:

“Reducing the spread of Covid 19 is paramount and the government’s track and trace app is a key tool in its strategy. However, it is peoples' behaviour that will determine if it is a success.

“We’ve identified at least four inter-related behaviours people would need to perform for the app to deliver on its purpose; to download the app, carry a functional phone at all times, identify they have Covid 19 symptoms and report them on the app, and act on messages from app to self-isolate.

“However, to perform these behaviours, people must have the capability, opportunity and motivation to do so, each of which is dependent upon a range of factors.”

Outlining the likely barriers and facilitators to people using the app, the paper highlights the importance of understanding these within the context of people’s occupation, role and employment status, gender, socio-economic group, ethnic group, experience of physical and/or learning disabilities, age group and the different levels of risk from severe Covid 19.

Dr Angel Chater, Health Psychologist and Chair of the BPS Behavioural Science and Disease Prevention Taskforce, said:

“Understanding the drivers and barriers behind the behaviours for different groups is essential to both the uptake and engagement of the app. Messaging that encourages people to use it should draw from behavioural science; highlighting clear and achievable behavioural strategies and outcomes.

“We’ve drawn from behavioural science, a rapid review of research in the area and our wider guidance launched earlier in the pandemic, to highlight the likely challenges that the team behind the app and related communications should consider. We strongly advise that further research be undertaken to better understand the potential barriers to the apps usage, to enable us to recommend appropriate solutions.”

The paper, ‘Behavioural science and success of the proposed UK digital contact tracing application for Covid 19’, can be accessed here: www.bps.org.uk/sites/www.bps.org.uk/files/Policy/Policy - Files/Behavioural science - digital contact tracing for Covid-19.pdf

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