Within the framework of the Flash Covid-19 call aiming to mobilizing scientific communities in connection with the development of the epidemic, the ANR selected at the end of its evaluation process, for immediate funding, 86 research projects covering a large number of issues related to the crisis.
The project "Défis comportementaux dans la crise du Covid- 19 : le cas de l'hygiène des mains" carried by Coralie Chevallier and Hugo Mercier, members of the team Evolution et Social Cognition, has been selected.
The goal of this proposal is not to find a vaccine, it isn’t to find a treatment either. The goal of this proposal is to learn how to deal with an epidemic in the absence of vaccines and treatment. In such circumstances, the only lever that is left for policy makers is to act on citizens’ behavior. Here, we focus on one particularly crucial behavior: handwashing. Handwashing is a universally acknowledged way of slowing the spread of pathogens, including the coronavirus, but injunctions to wash hands are often met with a shrug. The goal of this proposal is to identify behavioral and cognitive obstacles hindering the adoption of healthy handwashing habits. Based on these insights, we will design messages tapping the most promising psychological levers. We will then launch online testing experiments to test the efficacy of various messages on self-reported handwashing intentions and other outcomes of interest. This will put us in a position to launch a large-scale field experiment in 300 schools in the Académie de Versailles, who has agreed to partner with us on this project. Amplifying the national conversation about handwashing is especially timely in the current context, as research has shown that timing sanitary interventions when health issues are salient increases the probability of behavioral shifts. Beyond the present crisis, improving handwashing practices is an important challenge for educators and healthcare professionals. Therefore, the lessons drawn from the current project will be widely applicable both in response to the current crisis and for the future.