The England and Wales education authority has publicised a list of behaviours that will not be allowed in the classroom on the return to school. The threat includes anything from expelling children to putting them in special groups.
Amongst the transgressions in the list, according to The Guardian, is coughing on purpose or as a joke and also making jokes about the virus (‘malicious coughing’ or ‘making inappropriate jokes about Covid-19’).
I hope that the legions of so-called behavioural scientists that seem to be running in the corridors of government, nudging here and there, are not well paid . This is my hope. Because this is the greatest naive and pseudo-scientific blunder in behavioural terms.
If you want to avoid negative behaviours, the last thing you do is to publicise them, even worse at scale. The only thing that this does is too signal that those behaviour are expected, in fact that they may be a norm, current or in the future. It provides a fabulous free repertoire of bad behaviours for which to pick, if you can get away with it.
For kids that perhaps, coughing inappropriately, maliciously, as a joke, would have never crossed their minds, now they may see them as something interesting, funny and worth pushing the envelope for, perhaps to show off.
The world is full of ill-informed messages, of the types we see in hospitals or immigration at airports, in which posters tell us that ‘abuse will not be tolerated’, clearly signalling that this is a place where abuse has become normalised. ‘Don’t abuse the nurses’ (a real poster in NHS hospitals) says nurses here as most-abuse-able. ‘Don’t be rude to the staff’ (Heathrow airport) enlighten us for free that staff there are chronically insulted.
Whoever designed all those threatening notice boards and posters, had no idea of behavioural change. I bet there were some people with the word behaviour on their business cards.
Let’s not repeat the same stupidity in our schools and higher education places where we need to reward the positive behaviours, signal them, and stop the shopping list of transgressions with the associated punishment.
‘Everybody wears masks here’ at the frontispiece, would do for me.