By: Greg Staley
The Ontario Covid-19 Science advisory table for Ontario put out a paper a few weeks ago (April 22nd, 2021) titled “Behavioural Science Principles for Enhancing Adherence to Public Health Measures” that gave guidance on how politicians could manipulate the people of Ontario into adherence of their Public Health measures. Independent MPP Roman Baber brought this up in the house on April the 26th, 2021.
The key message of the paper says that “amid rising rates of new SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern, Ontario needs a refreshed approach to maintaining and enhancing adherence to public health measures.” They continue by saying that “promising strategies to increase effective masking and physical distancing include persuasion, enablement, modelling the behaviour, and clear education” are the way to obtain that “refreshed approach.”
Barriers to physical distancing
The list of reasons given as barriers to physical distancing includes but is not limited to:
- Conflicting messaging re: distancing while outdoors (Lack of knowledge)
- Lack of motivation (Social influences; Emotions; Consequences; Goals; Individual identity)
- Not adhering to the 2 metre/6 foot distancing requirement (Reinforcement; Establish habits)
The science table gives “tips” for each barrier that they’ve presented. We will now go through each barrier and some of the “tips” presented by the Ontario Science table to manipulate people into their desired outcome.
Conflicting messaging re: distancing while outdoors – The Ontario Science tables advice for conflicting messaging about distancing outdoors where transmission is much lower is interesting. They say that our politicians should “highlight that every effort counts” and that “small efforts make a big difference.”
The Ontario Science Table also recommended leveraging the use of metaphors like “a steady drop of water can create a cave” to create visuals that “help demonstrate how small repetitive events lead to big outcomes.”
How to deal with lack of motivation to distance according to the Ontario Science Table – According to the Ontario Science Table our politicians should frame messages in terms of maintaining well-being rather than avoiding risks. They also recognize that one communication technique doesn’t work for everyone and thus “tailored messaging for different motivations” is suggested.
Barriers to mask wearing
- Not motivated to adhere (Personal goals; Social influences; Emotion; Beliefs about consequences; Individual identity)
- Seeing others unmasked (Social influences; Beliefs about capabilities)
- Positive outcomes or progress is unclear (Memory; Establish habits)
Not motivated to adhere – If people aren’t motivated to adhere to the masking policy the Ontario Science table recommends manipulating you by doing things like reminding you that you “could miss out on” things like having a “better summer” and by building social norms by using “educational posters” at the entrance and exits of community buildings.
The Science table also recommends framing masking positively by saying that it shows others that you care. That’s where phrases like “I mask because I care about X” came from – don’t believe me then read the report. The report also notes that fashion trends should be “leveraged” as a form of “expression and identity.”
Seeing others unmasked – Seeing others unmasked is seen as being a “barrier” to masking in general. That’s why the Ontario Science Table recommended that politicians “use messaging from people we identify with” as it helps to “embed an equity lens”.
Essentially they want to find “grassroots” voices or “community-based messaging” as they are often the “most powerful,” the Science Table says. This suggests to me that they’re recommending reaching out to social media influencers to push their masking message or that they already have.
In fact, the Science Table recommends breaking down this barrier by “telling Ontarians how many are wearing masks regularly in their community” and by showing a “variety of people wearing masks in commercials and on posters to keep fostering masking as normal behaviour.” If you have to “foster masking as normal behaviour” you’re by default admitting that you recognize it isn’t normal behaviour.
Positive outcomes or progress is unclear – Here we have the Science table advocating for a tax credit for businesses to provide the masks in workplaces. However, perhaps more enlightening for those vaccinated is that the Science Table recommends that we “ensure consistency by requiring masks for entry into any and all public indoor spaces at all times, for all Ontarians (irrespective of vaccination status).
So if you got vaccinated to ditch the mask – get it out of your head as it won’t be happening anytime soon in Ontario.
I don’t know about you but I don’t like a government advisory table openly discussing how to manipulate me into making decisions that are against the evidence. For example mandatory masking was thrown out of the courts in 2015 and 2018 as it wasn’t proven to protect the nurse or patients against ILIs. The Ontario Nursing Association has since removed that link likely because they don’t want anyone knowing that they fought against masks and won due to their ineffectiveness against ILI transmission. Is this discussed as the Science Table pushes down this “advice” for mandatory masking – highly unlikely.
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