Covid scientist secretly 'nudged' Boris Johnson into wearing face mask during pandemic

Boris Johnson was regularly seen wearing a mask during the pandemic
Boris Johnson was regularly seen wearing a mask during the pandemic

Professor David Halpern says he used subtle messages to persuade Boris Johnson to wear a mask

Published

Behavioural scientists have admitted they secretly "nudged" Boris Johnson into wearing a face mask during the pandemic.

The former Prime Minister was rarely seen wearing a face covering in the first year of the Covid outbreak but was later regularly pictured with a mask on.

Boris Johnson was shown pictures of other world leaders wearing masks
Boris Johnson was shown pictures of other world leaders wearing masks

Government advisor Professor David Halpern says he used subtle messages to persuade Johnson to change his stance on the matter.

The member of Sage and head of the Cabinet Office "nudge unit" told an interview with the Reckitt Global Hygiene Institute that the showed the then-Prime Minister images of other world leaders all wearing masks.

He said: "We did share with him a slide pack at one point. "It had a series of images of pretty much every single world leader wearing a mask, and then a picture with him not."

Halpern said the images helped to subliminally make Johnson think: "A normal thing for a world leader to do right now is wear a mask".

The nudge unit was also responsible for helping advise on government messaging during the pandemic, including on the "Hands, Face, Space" and "Stay home - Protect the NHS" slogans.

Boris Johnson was helped to think wearing a mask was 'a normal thing for a world leader to do'
Boris Johnson was helped to think wearing a mask was 'a normal thing for a world leader to do'

Some UK scientists have started urging Britons to once again wear a facemark in public spaces due to a rise in cases of Covid and flu.

The UK Health Security Agency said the changes would help to reduce the pressures on the NHS. Halpern said he believes his "nudge" tactics could still be used now to intorudce the behavioural "scaffolding" necessary to persuade more people to wear facemask, even though lockdown rules have ended.

"You try and create some cues which remind people.

"Eventually, as it starts to become a habit, it becomes more automatic, then you can take away the scaffolding," he said.

"It's like a little booster shot for your vaccination."