How Can Psychology Help Governments During The COVID-19 Pandemic?



Today’s episode of The Psychology World Podcast focuses on social psychology and cognitive psychology as we investigate how psychology has influenced policymakers during the COVID-19 pandemic.


In addition, this blog post and psychology podcast episode is written using my notes from the British Psychological Society’s Conference on the 30th June to the 1st July 2020.


Great Psychology Quotes:

Firstly, I wanted to mention two great psychology quotes that I heard during the conference.


“No one is safe until everyone is safe,”


And this quote is brilliant because it truly highlights the severity of the pandemic. After all, even if one or two people are infected then the virus can easily spread and infect hundreds if not thousands of people all other again.


Therefore, it is vital that as a society we thrive to make sure that everyone is safe from the virus as well as, as a species we need to make sure that every person, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, country of origin is safe from the COVID-19 virus.


“If there’s no vaccine or cure then disease control has to be behavioural,”


This is critical because it is only through modifying people’s behaviour will be able to control and live with the virus.


For example, we will need people to wash their hands more regularly, socially distance and perform other behaviours. The only way to get people to do this for the long term is to modify their behaviour.


And this is where psychology comes in.


How can Psychology Help Policy Makers during the Pandemic?

During this particular talk at the psychology conference, there were 9 suggestions that the British Psychological Society put forward to the UK government about their policies and how to influence behaviour during the pandemic.


However, we’re only going to be focusing on 8 suggestions.


Minimise the I, emphasise the We:

With western societies being individualistic cultures that focus on the needs of the individual compared to the group is it somewhat nature for people to do things for the need and betterment of the group and sacrifice things to themselves.


As let’s face it social distancing is very detrimental to the individual and not going to work.


Nonetheless, during a pandemic, we need to think like a collectivistic culture and focus on the needs of the group to keep everyone safe and to prevent the spread of the virus.


This is why the idea of We is very important as this gets people to realise that they are protecting everyone else by sacrificing things that would be benefiting them.


Overall, to keep people safe we need to focus on the needs of society and not ourselves.


Note this links into cultural dimensions as discussed in Sociocultural Psychology 2nd Edition.


Message from Creditable Sources:

In social psychology and persuasion, it is a well-known fact that the message needs to come from a creditable source, so people are more likely to listen and be influenced by it.


Therefore, to influence people’s behaviour and get them to follow government guidelines and stop the spread of COVID-19 then the messages need to be delivered from a creditable source.


This is why when the Scottish Chief Medical Advisor became uncreditable the Scottish government needed to change all their adverts to get rid of this now uncreditable source.


By doing this it allowed the Scottish Government to maintain their creditability and people stayed persuaded by the messages.


On the other hand, when the UK government didn’t sack Dominic Cummings a lot of the UK population lot faith in the government so their creditability was lost and I hate to say it but a lot of British people in my experience are no longer persuaded by the government’s messaging.


You can learn more about Persuasion in Sociocultural Psychology 2nd Edition.


Create Worry, Not Fear:

Now, this is a difficult one as during a pandemic you need people to be concerned and act accordingly by changing their behaviour to help fight against the virus.


However, persuasion psychology teaches us that you need to be careful as if you create too little or worry then no one will care.


Equally, if you create too much fear then people will enter denial behaviour and they won’t follow the guidelines, or they will not be influenced by the messaging.


This is why it’s critical that the government uses enough information and data to create worry but not so much that people are too frightened as well as fearful.


Clearly Specify Behaviours, their Effectiveness and Be Evidence Base:

I decided to merge these topics into one section because people need to be able to understand what they need to do, why they should do them as well as what’s the evidence for their so-called effectiveness.


For example, to combat the community spread of the virus, people need to be clearly told what social distancing is, why social distancing is effective and what evidence is there for its effectiveness.


As it’s all well and good a government telling people to socially distancing, but why?


Why socially distance when it’s so detrimental to the self?


Hence, why it’s important to stress the effectiveness of social distancing as well as this feeds back into the idea of emphasising the We and not the I.


Furthermore, a government’s policies need to be evidence-led; and I’m not mentioning that the BPS thankfully confirmed that the UK government isn’t following the science; (the BPS works with the government directly so they know what’s happening) because leaders need to use the evidence and science to make informed decisions about how to combat the virus.


Nonetheless, the concept of being evidence-based applies to creditability as well as you need to use evidence to see how people will behave.


For example, I regretfully know that a lot of people think that psychology and how people will behave is common sense yet those of us in psychology know that behaviour is far from common sense, due to a number of factors including cognitive biases.


Therefore, leaders need to use data, evidence, and expert advice to shape policy so that they follow the science and not political aspirations and motivations.


Avoid Unintended Consequences:

This is another critical suggestion by the BPS to the UK Government because leaders need to be careful about their policies; even more so during a pandemic as they need to avoid unintended consequences.


For example, now the UK is starting to open up again a lot of people are feeling anxious and concerned as well as other experts believe that the government’s policy could lead to an increase in social deprivation.


Consequently, leaders need to design their policies so that their aims are achieved without creating other problems that need to be solved further down the line.


Pledge to Work Together:

Finally, leaders need to show people that they are working with them to solve this pandemic and fight back because people are more likely to want to work with the government and follow guidelines if they feel valued as well as listened to.

Overall, I hope that you’ve enjoyed this social psychology, cognitive psychology and political psychology episode of The Psychology World Podcast.


If you want to learn more about persuasion and influence which is heavily featured in today’s article then please check out my Sociocultural Psychology 2nd Edition Book.


Have a great day,

Connor.


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