A behavioural economics perspective on COVID-19 and human decision-making

Project dates: 01/04/2020 - Ongoing

This project aims to investigate the global implications of the COVID-19 pandemic through the lens of behavioural economics. Specifically, it will explore public health compliance, the impact of globalization on COVID-19 responses, risk attitudes and human mobility, tax policy measures to combat the pandemic, and certified Corona-immunity as a strategy to cope with pandemic costs.

Why is this important?

A pandemic is not only a biological event and a public health disaster, but it also generates impacts that are worth understanding from economic, societal, historical, and cultural perspectives. The world has lived with the COVID-19 pandemic for over a year now and it has uprooted every single human-being in one way or another. BEST have been on the forefront of behavioural science research into global impacts of the pandemic, showing how a single-discipline approach, whether its in the hard sciences, economics or behavioural sciences is likely to fail with many of todays challenging problems.

What we are doing

So far we have explored whether populations reporting low levels of confidence in the health care system exhibit a stronger behavioral reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. We track the dynamic responses to the COVID-19 pandemic across 38 European countries and 621 regions by employing a large dataset on human mobility generated between February 15 and June 5, 2020 and a broad range of contextual factors (e.g., deaths or policy implementations) (link). In addition, we used Google mobility data and nation-level personality data from 31 countries, both before and after region-specific legislative interventions, finding that agreeable nations are most consistently compliant with mobility restrictions. These findings were replicated using individual-level data, showing that several personality traits predict sheltering in place behavior, but extraverts are especially likely to remain mobile (link). We have also reflected from a behavioral economic perspective the impact of tax policy measures on the perception, evaluation, and behavior of citizens and derive considerations to devise appropriate tax policies to ensure compliance in the future. We start with speculations about citizens’ views of governmental restrictions and economic stimulus measures in response to the crisis, we apply these speculations to the acceptance and perceived effectiveness of policy measures on citizens’ tax compliance behaviors, and we finish with their likely effect on determinants of tax compliance (link). Finally, we have explored human mobility patterns as a measure of behavioural responses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our results indicate that risk-taking attitudes are a critical factor in predicting reductions in human mobility and social confinement around the globe. We find that the sharp decline in mobility after the WHO (World Health Organization) declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic can be attributed to risk attitudes (link).

Where we are going

In addition to our published research, we also have two forthcoming articles investigating:

  1. How (or does) globalisation affect COVID-19 responses?
  2. A Systematic Approach to Public Health – Novel Application of the Human Factors Analysis and Classification System to Public Health and COVID-19

We also have other working papers on this topic in development and these can be found HERE.


For more information about this project please email best@qut.edu.au

Chief Investigators

Other Team Members

  • Reiner Eichenberger
  • Rainer Hegselmann
  • Jordan W. Moon
  • James Alm
  • Martin Fochmann
  • Kay Blaufus
  • Erich Kirchler
  • Peter N. C. Mohr
  • Nina E. Olson