How evolutionary behavioural sciences can help us understand behaviour in a pandemic

Megan Arnot, Eva Brandl, Olympia Campbell, Yuan Chen, Juan Du, Mark Dyble, Emily Emmott, Erhao Ge, Luke Kretschmer, Ruth Mace, Alberto Micheletti, Sarah Nila, Sarah Peacey, Gul Deniz Salali, and Hanzhi Zhang


The COVID-19 pandemic has brought science into the public eye and to the attention of governments more than ever before. Much of this attention is on work in epidemiology, virology and public health, with most behavioural advice in public health focusing squarely on ‘proximate’ determinants of behaviour. While epidemiological models are powerful tools to predict the spread of disease when human behaviour is stable, most do not incorporate behavioural change. The evolutionary basis of our preferences and the cultural evolutionary dynamics of our beliefs drive behavioural change, so understanding these evolutionary processes can help inform individual and government decision-making in the face of a pandemic.

Published in

Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health, vol. 1, October 2020, p. 264–278