Research shows that when people repeatedly make small experience-based decisions, they behave as if they believe “it won’t happen to me” and choose the actions that are frequently more rewarding. In a pandemic, this implies complacency and reckless behavior. Behavioral contagion exacerbates this problem. We demonstrate this predicament using a simplified social game in which people preferred reckless behavior that was frequently better over safer responsible behavior. We then examine different policy solutions for this basic behavioral problem by comparing various variants of the game. We find that the most effective policies in reducing the prevalence of reckless behavior are those that make responsible choices frequently better than reckless choices. Such policies can be achieved with support of voluntary applications. We conclude with a presentation of a field study among nursing home employees late in 2020. The results of the field study show that a simple policy change that makes people save just a few minutes daily more than tripled the rate of responsible choices.
Joint work with Yefim Roth and Ido Erev.