A Health Psychologist from the University of Bedfordshire, Dr Angel Chater, has been appointed to lead the Behavioural Science & Disease Prevention (BSDP) taskforce, to help provide guidance for policy-makers around the world.
This unit has been established as part of the BPS’s (British Psychological Society) Covid-19 coordinating group, consisting of psychologists from across the society and its networks, including those affiliated with SPI-B (Scientific Pandemic Influenza group on Behaviours) which, in turn, informs SAGE – the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.
Dr Angel Chater, Reader in Health Psychology and Behaviour Change at the University’s Institute for Sport and Physical Activity Research and current Chair of the BPS Division of Health Psychology, believes that widening the understanding and use of behavioural science is crucial to minimising the extent of the impact of Covid-19. Dr Chater said:
The insight that behavioural science provides enables us to understand and support behaviour change from a bio-psycho-social perspective. For example, we know behaviours such as hand-washing and physical-distancing are vital for preventing infection and improving outcomes for us all, but the challenge policy-makers face is how to best support the multiple influences which impact public behaviours that are needed to protect health and wellbeing.
Using their professional knowledge of the bio-psycho-social model, the BSDP taskforce outlines how different factors, such as the environment, thought processes, knowledge, culture and social support, can determine people’s actions and ultimately how (and if) they respond to policies and health advice. The guidance highlights that health messages need to clearly specify protective behaviours and ways to perform them, and to avoid confusion and fear.
Ensuring decision-makers are able to approach these multiple behavioural influences effectively, the guidance produced by Dr Chater’s taskforce has been shared with SPI-B, Public Health England, local authorities, Health Education England, international health forums and considered in UK Government advisory groups. Overall, their advice provides policy-makers, commissioners and communicators with key considerations to help optimise their decisions and drive behaviour change during the current pandemic. Dr Chater added:
The briefing has eight core considerations, ending with a pledge for organisations to collaborate through a multi-disciplinary approach to #COMBATCOVID19TOGETHER. It calls for a collective viewpoint on how we as a society can look after each other rather than an individualistic viewpoint of how people can protect themselves. We must remember that while we are all in the same storm, we are not necessarily in the same boat.
In addition to the BSDP taskforce, Dr Chater has also confirmed her involvement with the Psychological Government initiative, where experts will provide further briefings and training for MPs with the aim to create a more psychologically-informed government. The programme hopes for a sustainable, effective and inclusive approach to policy and decision-making by reinforcing across the UK Government (from Number 10, to Cabinet ministers, to backbenchers), the importance of considering the people they represent throughout governmental processes. Dr Chater explained:
Too often we hear the use of stigmatising language, which determines a person by their situation or condition, such as ‘low-income families’ ‘obese people’ or ‘bereaved children’. People should not be defined in this way. Instead, they are families living on low-income, people living with obesity or children who have experienced a bereavement. These tiny nuances of language can psychologically make a huge difference to people’s inner dialogue and how they are treated by society. A psychologically-informed government can take leadership to change the systemic way that currently causes such unconscious stigma and unintended consequences and instead put psychology at the heart of society, health and wellbeing.
Follow Dr Angel Chater on Twitter for updates on her work with the BSDP taskforce and other projects, such as the Health Psychology Exchange (HPX) – an online community of health psychologists and trainees offering voluntary expertise, a repository of behavioural science resources, as well as a database of psychology-based Covid-19 research and activities.
We are greater together than alone- both for wellbeing and efficacy. A more joined up pipeline from research to practice desperately needed and lots of people want to be part of that movement 🙌🏻 https://t.co/5f0luqKTSE— HealthPsychologyExchange (@HealthPsychX) May 7, 2020
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