As some Americans head back to work, psychologists offer tips on proper social distancing

As some states reopen for business amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a Rice University psychologist and his colleagues have developed a chart of evidence-based tips on how to properly social distance.

Jim Pomerantz, a professor of psychological sciences at Rice University and chair of the Psychonomic Society Governing Board, has teamed up with fellow members of the society to develop the list of science-backed suggestions. The team previously developed a chart with recommendations on how to stop face-touching, a common behavior the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends avoiding to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“A lot of media attention regarding COVID-19 continues to focus on medical interventions, including specialized equipment and trained personnel dealing with people who are already infected and fighting for their lives,” Pomerantz said. “But what we all have to keep in mind is that most of the people who are going to be infected by COVID-19 haven’t been infected yet. Our group is trying to put some emphasis on preventing people from getting infected so that they don’t end up on ventilators.

“What makes our group relevant to this is that we are experts on human behavior, and we know that the disease is transmitted this way,” Pomerantz continued. “When we fail to socially distance ourselves, we get virus on our hands and then we touch our faces and infect ourselves with the virus. Our recommendations offer guidance on how to properly social distance.”

Absent a vaccine, which won’t be ready for some time, Pomerantz said social distancing combined with not touching your face is more effective than medical interventions for stopping the spread of the virus.

“There’s a lot of misinformation going around at this time,” Pomerantz said. “What we want to do is offer science-based steps that we all can take that are simple, proven to be effective and can stop the spread of COVID-19.”

The recommendations are available online here, and will be published in different languages.

“Many of us have taken a course in introductory psychology where we learned about conditioning and the laws of behavior, and how we can establish and change behavior,” Pomerantz said. “We know that this works.”

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