Changing social norms in times of pandemic


Source: Katarzyna Modrzejewska / Pixels

Hours after planes crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11, the government took swift action. All thefts have been grounded and the President, Police Commissioner and Mayor of New York have issued regular, factual and clear updates. When the airports opened two days later, immediate changes were implemented signaling that times were new.

Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic lacks the characteristics that naturally lead to rapid social change, such as a sudden crisis with undeniable consequences. The number of cases in the United States appears to be relatively low, making it harder for people to take it seriously. It also means that most of us don’t yet know anyone who has tested positive – or worse, has passed away.

Reports from other countries have given us insight into how quickly the virus is spreading, but it is psychologically very difficult for us to play out hypothetical future scenarios that require difficult changes now. We tend to focus on the here and now, so it’s not easy to play out what the world might be like in two to four weeks. This cognitive limitation explains why most of us find it difficult to prioritize long-term consequences over short-term gains. That’s why we don’t keep our New Year’s resolutions and struggle to save for retirement.

All of these factors are magnified for young people. Teens and young adults are especially likely to favor short-term rewards over long-term consequences, which is why so many people continue to vape even as more and more evidence is published on the serious consequences for it. health. Their propensity to take risks and their strong desire to integrate lead adolescents to adopt risky behaviors, especially when they are with their peers. This helps explain the many photos of young people hanging out in crowded bars and restaurants, despite growing awareness that this is precisely how the virus is spread.

Not everyone embraces the new normal, but we need to do it quickly. Fortunately, psychology research provides several important insights into how we can quickly change social norms to reduce the spread and severity of this pandemic.

First of all, it’s important to understand that one person can make the difference. Each of us individually may feel helpless in the face of this pandemic, but only one person practicing social distancing matters. You’ve probably seen an image circulating on social media of a row of burning matches followed by a receding match, which then protects the extinguished matches from the fire. So your own individual choice – limiting grocery shopping or refusing to host meetings – can and will make a difference.

Second, expand the group. We are much more willing to help those we know or feel connected to than anonymous strangers. This explains why many people weren’t particularly concerned about the virus when it appeared to be confined to China, South Korea or Iran. Expanding the way we think about our connections with others – focusing on our own older relatives or friends with underlying health issues – can help us overcome the human tendency for ingrained inaction.

Third, role models of all types – not just political leaders but also celebrities and sports stars – should actively lobby for behavior change. NBA star Steph Curry posted a video on social media encouraging social distancing, which can help teens and young adults. As Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr says, “Everyone needs to understand that every individual can play a part in this and that’s the only way it’s going to work to change the momentum of what we’re doing. are facing. “

Research by Damon Centola at the University of Pennsylvania suggests that large-scale social change does not require majority support. If only about 25 percent of the people in a group take a stand, that’s enough to create a tipping point that can lead relatively quickly to setting a new standard. A small but noisy minority can change what is perceived to be socially expected, whether it’s bumping your elbows instead of shaking hands or staying home instead of going out.

We don’t need everyone to immediately adopt new standards. What we need is enough of us to do this. If 25% of us change our behavior and communicate this change to our friends, neighbors and family members, we can shape social norms more broadly.

Rafale / Pexels

Source: Rafale / Pexels

So here is my request to anyone reading this: follow the guidelines recommended by the CDC and other public health experts. Wash your hands. Practice social distancing. Stay at home. But what is just as important is that you share this choice with other members of your social network, via email, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Because in this case, changing the way we live on a daily basis can save lives.

About Marjorie C. Hudson

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