The current pandemic requires adoption of health-promoting behaviors, such as mask wearing, physical distancing, and handwashing. The first two of these behaviors—mask wearing and physical distancing—require the development of health habits that are new to the U.S. population and inconsistent with existing habits and norms. Handwashing is not a new habit, but is practiced inconsistently. 

How can leaders encourage adherence with these prevention strategies? This rapid expert consultation from the Societal Experts Action Network helps decision makers, at the federal, state, and local levels, identify what is known about strategies to increase adherence to protective behaviors to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. By understanding these strategies, decision makers can choose the ones that work best for their community. Download the full rapid expert consultation now.


Strategies to Make Adoption of Preventive Behaviors More Likely


Make the Behavior Easy to Start and Repeat Example: install easily-accessible handwashing or sanitizing stations in public areas


Make the Behavior Rewarding to Repeat Example: make mask wearing instantly gratifying by promoting fashionable masks, or masks with sports team logos or other identity decorations that make them fun to wear


Tie the Behavior to an Existing Habit Example: encourage individuals to keep masks by their front door so that they associate putting their mask on with putting on their shoes


Alert People to Behaviors that Conflict with Existing Habits and Provide Alternative Behaviors Example: identify alternative behaviors: “To reduce the spread of COVID-19, do not shake hands at work meetings, instead wave or bow”


Provide Specific Descriptions of Desired Behaviors Example: use messages such as “maintain at least 6 feet of separation from others” instead of “socially distance”

Communication Strategies to Encourage Adoption of Protective Behaviors

  • 1 Use Clear, Consistent, and Transparent Messaging
  • 2 Avoid Undue Attention to the Frequency of Socially Undesirable Behaviors
  • 3 Foster a Sense of Efficacy and Avoid Fatalism
  • 4 Appeal to the Collective Good of One’s Community
  • 5 Use Messengers Trusted by the Target Audience
  • 6 Tailor the Framing of the Message to the Audience
  • 7 Link Prevention Behaviors to People’s Identities
  • 8 Highlight Social Disapproval of a Target Audience Member’s Failure to Comply When It Occurs
  • 9 Highlight the Growing Prevalence of Behavior Change within the Target Audience When It Occurs
  • 10Avoid Repeating Misinformation, Even to Debunk It

Download the Full Rapid Expert Consultation

Learn More About SEAN

The Societal Experts Action Network (SEAN) links decision makers with social, behavioral, and economic science researchers who can provide evidence-based expert guidance that supports local, state, and federal policies and responses related to COVID-19. The network, an activity of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that is sponsored by the National Science Foundation, responds to the most pressing questions and provides rapid, actionable responses. To learn more about SEAN, visit nationalacademies.org/SEAN.

The network appreciates any and all feedback on its work. Please send comments to SEAN@nas.edu, or fill out the feedback form on the right.