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Behavioural research under-used in pandemic, says EU agency

Survey points to lack of expertise on pandemic management teams

European countries are not making enough use of behavioural research in their attempts to control Covid-19, the EU’s public health agency has said.

Behavioural research is a multidisciplinary field that draws on the psychological, cognitive and social sciences. One area of study is ‘pandemic fatigue’—a drop in adherence to public health advice during an outbreak.

The potential value of such work done during the Covid-19 pandemic “has not been realised fully” in 10 European countries surveyed, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said in a 17 February report.

The ECDC interviewed national experts in Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden for the survey.

One reason for the under-use of behavioural approaches seems to be under-representation of social and behavioural sciences in relation to biomedical expertise within national Covid-19 management teams, the agency said.

Another explanation, it suggested, is that funding for behavioural research has not been prioritised in most of the countries surveyed.

While the psychosocial aspects of pandemic management may have been neglected, responses to the survey suggest it is a growing area of research, the agency added.

It also said that behavioural research has had a significant influence during the pandemic on the communication of risks, the need for testing and messaging around vaccines.

The agency said the importance of behavioural research has become increasingly evident this month as new variants of the virus causing Covid-19 have emerged, meaning public expectations of lockdown easing will need to be managed accordingly.

It suggested that mapping of behavioural expertise in different countries and greater communication between teams could help bolster use of behavioural research in pandemic responses.