fear government pandemic
© The Telegraph
Infantilised: 'If this was an experiment in a psychology lab, we would have signed consent forms'
Foreign holidays are back! So said the headlines last week when the Government's "green list" of safe countries was revealed.

Not so fast, warned ministers, telling the public going abroad was "dangerous" and is "not for this year".

Confused? That's because you're meant to be, says Laura Dodsworth, who has spent the past year investigating the Government's use of behavioural psychology for her new book, A State of Fear.

"When you create a state of confusion, people become ever more reliant on the messaging," she says. "Instead of feeling confident about making decisions, they end up waiting for instructions from the Government."

This week's chaotic and contradictory advice on travel is all part of the growing use of fear to control the public, she believes - a tactic which has been supercharged by the Covid pandemic.

"It reminds me very much of what the Government was doing at Christmas, when family Christmases were on, then off, then back on, then off again," she says. "You have got someone tightening the screw, then loosening the screw, then tightening it again. It's like a torture scenario."


Comment: To illustrate the pan-Western application of this torture, French media literally ran multiple headlines at key junctures throughout this psychological torture process in which the government announced, time and again, that it was "turning the screw..."



Dodsworth, who is also the latest guest on The Telegraph's Planet Normal podcast, which you can listen to using the audio player above, believes that the technique "infantilises" the public and enables the Government to control behaviour without having to use unpopular legislation - such as making holidays illegal.

It may at first glance have the feel of a conspiracy theory, but in the course of her research Dodsworth has not only uncovered what she says is evidence of the industrial-scale use of behavioural science in Whitehall, but also spoken to practitioners who believe it has gone way too far.


Comment: We archived a couple of these 'mea cuplas' from British psychological operators when this was first exposed by the Daily Telegraph last year:

State of Fear: How UK Govt. 'Used Covert Tactics' to Unnecessarily Terrify Public

Use of fear to control behavior in Covid crisis was 'totalitarian', admit scientists


boris lockdown pandemic

The UK government's handling of the fear messaging has been excellent (from their point of view)
One told her they were stunned by the "weaponisation" of fear by Whitehall. Dodsworth says: "I fervently hope this book is actually going to inspire a much needed conversation about the use of fear, not just in the epidemic, but the way we use behavioural psychology overall.

"It's not just a genie that has been let out the bottle. It's like we've unleashed a Hydra and you can keep chopping its head off, but they keep employing more of these behavioural scientists throughout different government departments. It's very much how the Government now does business. It's the business of fear."

Dodsworth set off on her quest after being struck by a now-infamous minute of a Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) meeting last March. It noted that a sub-group of Sage, the Scientific Pandemic Influenza group on Behaviours (SPI-B), had warned that many people "still do not feel sufficiently personally threatened" and that "the perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased".

This has become "Exhibit A" in the case against the Government's use of alleged covert psychological strategies - but Dodsworth found multiple branches of the State employing similar methods. There is the Behavioural Insights Team, better known as the "nudge unit", which has become so successful it is now a semi-independent body advising other countries on how to use nudge theory to the greatest effect.

Less well known is the Home Office's Research, Information and Communications Unit (RICU), which, according to Dodsworth, "attempts to covertly engineer the thoughts of people" by providing support to bodies seen by the public as "grassroots" organisations.

There is also the Rapid Response Unit, based in Number 10 and the Cabinet Office, and the Counter Disinformation Cell, attached to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, both of which monitor social media and tackle "fake" news including, Dodsworth claims, YouTube videos by doctors who contradict WHO guidance on Covid.

GCHQ has been involved in combating anti-vaccine messaging, Dodsworth suggests, and military personnel, she claims, are also being used to rebut private citizens who challenge lockdown on social media.

She says some people believe they have been targeted by the 77th Brigade, part of the 6th Division of the Army, which, according to the Ministry of Defence, uses "legitimate non-military levers as a means to adapt behaviours of the opposing forces and adversaries". When she inquired about the activities of some of these bodies, "I hit a brick wall," she says, "and I find that when someone puts up a brick wall, it's because that's where the real story lies."


Comment: And the real story, most likely, is that the authors of these 'counter-narratives' are in fact the authors of the false narratives. They constitute The Disinformation Cell, period.


laura dodsworth
© Jeff Gilbert
Laura Dodsworth has spent the past year investigating the Government’s use of behavioural psychology
In A State of Fear, Dodsworth claims that there are behavioural insights teams operating within at least 10 Government departments. Her research has made her deeply suspicious of even the most innocent-looking good news story about the Government's work.

"I interviewed someone who had worked for one of the agencies that works with RICU," she says. "They explained that, after the London Bridge terror attack, there were lots of bunches of flowers left at the scene,but some of them were delivered 'officially' before the emotional outpouring from the public. It was fascinating.

"So when I read newspaper articles saying the nurse who delivered the first vaccination in the UK is backing a national thank you day for key workers, I wonder which Government department is behind it. The idea of having a day where we are all going to be thanking people for the vaccine feels a bit staged - a bit Stalinist, even."


Comment: This points to a long track record of government-staged events and the 'shaping' of 'mass formation narratives' before the pandemic came along. Remember 'Boston Strong', and 'Je Suis Charlie', and landmarks lit up with the national colors of the target country?... They were all government 'psychological priming' operations to shape your feelings about political events, thus your thoughts, and thus your actions.


With the success of the vaccine rollout and the decline in Covid deaths, the Government might have been expected to quietly dial down its use of fear. But Dodsworth believes it is as prevalent as ever. "The Cabinet Office is recruiting three new behavioural scientists this week," she says. "It's growing and growing. Right now, I feel we are in a maelstrom of nudge."

For Dodsworth, A State of Fear appears to be something of a new direction, having made her name as a photographer with her three Bare Reality books, in which she snapped men and women naked and interviewed them about their bodies.

She insists, however, that there is a common thread running through her work. "What I'm interested in is what makes us who we are, and I'm interested in taboos. This is really in keeping with the kind of investigative social documentary work I've done."
pandemic britain lockdown
© Andrew Matthews/PA Wire
Incessant fear messaging has effectively controlled the population
Although she supports the vaccination programme and believes people should be encouraged to get the jab, she believes the Government is going about it in entirely the wrong way: "They like to use the term 'vaccine hesitant', which implies that people are hesitating before coming to an inevitable conclusion," she says.

"They are also fear-bombing people over the Indian variant, then love-bombing the vaccine rollout, using carrot and stick to drive vaccine take-up. People need to be given the facts so they can come to an informed decision, not be demonised."

Dodsworth accepts that for many people, desperate times call for desperate measures, meaning some will feel the use of fear was entirely justified if it meant saving lives. But what she can't accept is that fear has been used to control the behaviour of the British people without their consent.

"If this was an experiment in a psychology lab, we would have signed consent forms," she says. "This has not been given full ethical consideration.

state fear dodsworth
"In the past, there have been calls to consult the public on the use of behavioural psychology, and those calls have come from the behavioural scientists themselves. And yet it hasn't happened. We haven't yet been consulted on the use of subconscious techniques which effectively strip away our choices.

"The other problem with fear is it creates collateral damage. We've tanked the economy. People have lost their jobs and businesses have closed. One in eight adults have developed moderate to severe depression during lockdown. So I think there were a lot of problems with the politics of fear, but really fundamentally, I think it undermines democracy."

She does not, however, see any future Government reining in the use of behavioural psychology, as it is popular with all parties.

"Libertarians quite like nudge," she says. "They like it because it avoids the state having to legally mandate. So, for instance, the Government saying they're not going to mandate Covid passports, but they won't stop businesses doing it. Well, it ends up getting you into the same place.

"The Left like nudge because they don't really seem to trust people to make the right decisions. And, we have to remember, Dominic Cummings said at an event a couple of years ago that the future is behavioural psychology and data analytics. Just look at how elections have been won most recently."

Dodsworth is fiercely patriotic, but has concluded that, in Britain, "We're a little bit too biddable.

"We want to be quiet and to be good and to do the right thing. And it's very difficult to stand out and be different. The herd mentality has been really encouraged through the use of behavioural psychology.

"I think ultimately people don't want to be manipulated. People don't enjoy being hoodwinked and they don't want to live in a state of fear. We maybe need to be a bit bolder about standing up more quickly when something is not right."
A State of Fear by Laura Dodsworth (Pinter & Martin, £9.99) is available for £8.99 at books.telegraph.co.uk or call 0844 871 1514.

Listen to her in conversation with Liam Halligan on the latest Planet Normal podcast using the audio player at the top of this article, and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your preferred podcast app