Event — How to Change Behavior During a Pandemic: From Personal Habits to Public Health

*This event has now taken place. To read a recap of the event and access links to view or listen to the full conversation, please head here.*

Friday, January 15th, 2021
10am PT | 1pm ET | 6pm GMT

Social distancing. Mask wearing. Vaccine acceptance and uptake. The pandemic may be medical in nature, but many of the public health tools we’ve used to combat the virus, and the tools we’ll need to eradicate it, are behavioral. 

Adopting these public health behaviors en masse is anything but straightforward, though critical to protecting essential workers and other vulnerable people. Shelter-in-place orders and masks have divided us, often along political lines. We’ve heard pleas to adhere to public health recommendations and witnessed protests against them. Why has collective behavior change in the name of saving lives been so hard and felt so personal?

And we’re not only grappling with new public health behaviors. With the New Year, many still have individual goals—eat healthier, exercise more, be better partners and parents. How can we achieve personal behavior change, set new habits, and chart out new routines at a time when our “normal” world is turned upside down?

Join a discussion about the science of behavior change during COVID-19, with behavioral scientist Katherine Milkman and social neuroscientist Jay Van Bavel. The speakers will share their insights on topics like vaccine uptake, the polarization of social distancing and mask-wearing, and how each of us can carve out a place for personal development even in the middle of a pandemic. Evan Nesterak, Editor-in-Chief of Behavioral Scientist magazine, will moderate.


Katherine Milkman, James G. Dinan Professor, University of Pennsylvania 

Katherine Milkman’s research explores how insights from economics and psychology can be harnessed for good, such as vaccine uptake, saving for retirement and building lasting exercise habits. She is the cofounder and codirector of the Behavior Change for Good Initiative and the host of Charles Schwab’s Choiceology podcast, which explores stories of irrational decision-making large and small. Recently, Milkman led a nationwide study on how to boost flu vaccine uptake in the United States.

Jay Van Bavel, Associate Professor of Psychology, New York University

Jay Van Bavel’s research examines how collective concerns—group identities, moral values and political beliefs—shape the mind, brain and behavior. He is the Director of the Social Identity & Morality Lab, which takes a social neuroscience approach to understanding the human brain. Recently, he has been investigating the roots of political polarization and has coauthored a study on how the social and behavioral sciences can support our response to the pandemic.


Evan Nesterak, Editor-in-Chief, Behavioral Scientist

Evan Nesterak is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Behavioral Scientist, a nonprofit digital and print magazine dedicated to exploring the world through the science of human behavior. Previously, he worked with Angela Duckworth at the University of Pennsylvania on character development research and, while in Philadelphia, helped kickstart the city of Philadelphia’s behavioral science team. He’s also helped lead the Mindset Assessment Project, an initiative designed to bring rigorous psychological research into the world of sport. There he worked with the U.S. Soccer Federation, among other organizations. Originally from Colorado, he currently lives in Prague, Czech Republic.

Friday, January 15th, 2021
10am PT | 1pm ET | 6pm GMT

Event support

This event is a collaboration between the Behavioral Scientist and Knowable Magazine. It is part of Knowable Magazine’s Reset: The Science of Crisis & Recovery, an ongoing series of live events and science journalism exploring how the world is navigating the coronavirus pandemic, its consequences and the way forward.

Reset is supported by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Knowable Magazine is a product of Annual Reviews, a nonprofit publisher dedicated to synthesizing and integrating knowledge for the progress of science and the benefit of society. Major funding for Knowable comes from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Additional resources

From Knowable 

From the Behavioral Scientist 

Related Annual Review articles

Other online resources