An international team including psychologists from Kent has addressed ways to manage different aspects of life under the spread of COVID-19.
In a paper published by Nature Human Behaviour, Karen Douglas, Professor of Social Psychology at Kent, considers how we can globally combat conspiracy theories, while Dr Aleksandra Cichocka, Senior Lecturer in Political Psychology, examines how leaders can effectively manage pandemics.
The project, which was led by New York University and Stanford University, uses research from the past half century to offer insights about how to address current circumstances. The researchers hope that this interdisciplinary review will enable public health experts to communicate more effectively in the future and drive behavioural change across the world.
Professor Douglas said: ‘Conspiracy theories emerged almost immediately after the first news of COVID-19 and they can be harmful.
‘People who believe in conspiracy theories might not follow official health advice, putting themselves and others at risk. Whilst conspiracy beliefs are difficult to remove, inoculating people with facts – much like a vaccine – can reduce the impact of conspiracy theories’.
Dr Cichocka said: ‘Leaders can offer support by building a strong sense that we are all in this together as a group, a nation. In this way, they may foster not only stronger adherence to rules and guidelines, but also help people feel empowered and hopeful.
‘However, focusing on promoting an image of the nation as handling the situation exceptionally well or better than others could backfire, especially when there is no basis for it. It might contribute to intergroup animosities in a time where it is especially important to share resources and expertise across national boundaries.’
Jay Van Bavel, an Associate Professor in Psychology at New York University, who led the project with Robb Willer, a Sociologist from Stanford University, added: ‘The COVID-19 pandemic represents a massive, global health crisis. Because the crisis requires large-scale behaviour change and poses significant psychological burdens on individuals, insights from the social and behavioural sciences are likely going to be very helpful for optimising pandemic response.’
‘Using social and behavioural science to support COVID-19 pandemic response’ is published in Nature Human Behaviour. DOI: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-020-0884-z