The UK government’s testing and contact-tracing system is currently being tested on the Isle of Wight after the app went live on the island on May 5, and is expected to be launched to the rest of the UK in June, if it proves successful.
The British Psychological Society (BPS) has published a briefing, informed by leading behavioural psychologists, which highlights the importance of behavioural science in the success of the government’s new digital contact tracing app.
Professor Madelynne Arden, from Sheffield Hallam University, the lead author of the briefing, said the research identified at least four things people would need to do to ensure the app is a success.
The public need to: download the app, carry a functional phone at all times, identify they have Covid-19 symptoms and report them on the app, and act on messages from app to self-isolate.
Professor Arden, who is the director for the Centre of Behavioural Science and Applied Psychology at the university, said to do this, people must have the "capability, opportunity and motivation to do so, each of which is dependent upon a range of factors."
She added: "Reducing the spread of Covid-19 is paramount and the government’s track and trace app is a key tool in its strategy. However, it is peoples' behaviour that will determine if it is a success."
Outlining the likely barriers to people using the app, the research highlighted the importance of understanding these within the context of people’s lives.
This includes understanding people’s occupation, role and employment status, gender, socio-economic group, ethnic group, experience of physical and/or learning disabilities, age group and the different levels of risk from severe Covid-19.
Dr Angel Chater, chair of the BPS Behavioural Science and Disease Prevention Taskforce, said: "Understanding the drivers and barriers behind the behaviours for different groups is essential to both the uptake and engagement of the app."
The research has recommended that behavioural science is integrated within the app.
Dr Chater said: "Messaging that encourages people to use it should draw from behavioural science; highlighting clear and achievable behavioural strategies and outcomes.
"We’ve drawn from behavioural science, a rapid review of research in the area and our wider guidance launched earlier in the pandemic, to highlight the likely challenges that the team behind the app and related communications should consider.
"We strongly advise that further research be undertaken to better understand the potential barriers to the apps usage, to enable us to recommend appropriate solutions."
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