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More about behaviour 

  • Mats Postema

Will Covid permanently change our behaviour?

Updated: Apr 11


Well, that depends. Our behaviour is a result of the situation: the interaction between a target audience, their surroundings, and organizations that want to influence their behaviour. A target audience itself does not really change in a relatively short time. So, whether their behaviour permanently changes after Covid depends on whether their surroundings and organizations change permanently. If not, people will fall back into their old habits in no time.


Buttons + Situation = Behaviour

Through thousands of years of evolution, people are programmed with all kinds of buttons in their heads. Depending on how those buttons are pushed by the situation, people show certain behaviour. Ten thousand years ago, that was very useful, because it helped us survive. But situations change much faster than the buttons in our heads can adapt. And when the situation doesn't push the buttons in our head in the right way, we sometimes exhibit behaviour that doesn't make sense, or even is undesirable.


Behavior during the Covid pandemic

Especially when the Covid pandemic broke out, we saw a very rapid change in the situation. The buttons in our head are therefore pushed in a different way. There are disinfection pumps and signs asking you to keep your distance everywhere. In addition, almost every organization sends out the same message: work from home, wash your hands, keep your distance, wear a face mask. Because the surroundings and messages from organizations are different at the moment, our behaviour is also different.


Yet, the ancient buttons in our head still have an influence. And they sometimes prevent us from keeping our distance, washing our hands, or wearing our masks. For example, the buttons that used to ensure that we could easily survive in groups, now make it so difficult to be alone for a long time and not to shake hands. We want to go out again, make real social contact and pick up our old habits. That's how we are programmed. As soon as our surroundings and organizations will go "back to normal", we will do too.


Behaviour after the Covid pandemic

It's the interaction between a target audience, the surroundings and organizations that determines behaviour. Really changing a target audience takes more than a few years. Whether Covid will change our behaviour on the long term, therefore depends on our surroundings and organizations. If these do not change permanently, our behaviour won't either. Therefore, we will fall back into our old habits very quickly after Covid.


So too bad for the people who like to work at home or are happy that we got rid of shaking hands. There is a good chance that we will pick up old habit like driving to the office every day and shaking hands again soon after Covid. However, if organizations choose, for example, to better facilitate video calling (at the office), also after covid, there will be less unnecessary traffic and less unnecessary handshakes. It is therefore up to organizations to consider which changes they do want to keep after Covid, and to adjust the situation accordingly.

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