“The perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent, using hard-hitting emotional messaging.”
– SPI-B paper, 22 March 2020.
“Fear is the most powerful of emotions and, as emotions are stronger than thoughts, fear can overpower the clearest of minds. We shouldn’t feel bad about being frightened. From an evolutionary perspective, it is key to our survival, it protects us from danger. And that is precisely what makes fear one of the most powerful tools in behavioural psychology.
Britain has been a world leader in behavioural insights since David Cameron set up the “nudge unit”. We now export behavioural psychology to governments and corporations around the world. The Government has used behavioural psychology to influence behaviour and encourage compliance during the Covid-19 epidemic. But has the nudge become a shove?
When the SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) minutes were published, people were startled by the admission that the UK Government intended to deliberately frighten people to make them follow the lockdown rules. But governments have long-used use fear to control populations and influence behaviour, from the benign intentions of health campaigns such as the 1980s hard-hitting “Don’t die of ignorance” HIV campaign, to the more concerning end of the scale, such as the USA’s MK-ULTRA.