Prosocial nudges and visual indicators increase social distancing, but authoritative nudges do not

Mohin Banker, Moses Miller, Guy Voichek, Dafna Goor, Tamar Makov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Social distancing reduces the transmission of COVID-19 and other airborne diseases. To test different ways to increase social distancing, we conducted a field experiment at a major US airport using a system that presented color-coded visual indicators on crowdedness. We complemented those visual indicators with nudges commonly used to increase COVID-19-preventive behaviors. Analyzing data from 57,146 travelers, we find that visual indicators and nudges significantly affected social distancing. Introducing visual indicators increased the share of travelers practicing social distancing, and this positive effect was enhanced by introducing nudges focused on personal benefits ("protect yourself") and public benefits ("protect others"). Conversely, an authoritative nudge referencing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ("don't break CDC COVID-19 guidelines") did not change social distancing behavior. Our results demonstrate that visual indicators and informed nudges can boost social distancing and potentially curb the spread of contagious diseases.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere2116156119
Pages (from-to)e2116156119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number33
StatePublished - 16 Aug 2022


  • COVID-19
  • nudge
  • public health messaging
  • reactance

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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