A year into the pandemic, social psychologist Stephen Reicher still feels comfortable saying that “the core thing we can do to deal with COVID-19 is to change human behavior. This is a disease that thrives precisely because it benefits from human sociality.”
The vaccines, he adds, “will solve nothing. It’s people getting vaccinated that will solve something.”
Reicher is one of the four editors of a recent book, Together Apart: The Psychology of COVID-19. Those editors –Jolanda Jetten, professor of social psychology and Australian Laureate Fellow at the University of Queensland; Reicher, Wardlaw Professor of Psychology at the University of St. Andrews; S. Alexander Haslam, professor of psychology and Australian Laureate Fellow at the University of Queensland; and Tegan Cruwys, senior research fellow at the Australian National University – were working at warp speed for a serious academic endeavor. Collaborating remotely put together the edited volume Together Apart in record time for SAGE Publishing (which released the entire book for free download on Social Science Space in May).
Now, in the dawn of 2021, they are revisiting their work and that of their contributors in a series of seven videos in which they talk with the academics who wrote edited volume’s various chapters. The pandemic, Reicher recounts, has created a halcyon time for psychology. “In my life I have never seen such interest in psychology, never seen such discussion of psychology, never seen psychology on the front pages of the newspapers or on the evening news.”
In this 44-minute video, Reicher addresses what he sees as the two psychologies of COVID, working through the lens of social identity theory.
“Social identity tradition is much misunderstood,” he begins, suggesting that many people see the theory as accounting only for hostility between groups, that it tells us, “there is something basic about human behavior, a basic tendency to discriminate against other groups.” In his view, however, the theory is not about discrimination but of social change and social power.
“Challenging [something] is the same thing as acting collectively,” he explains. “As an individual you navigate within the system; when we come together collectively, as a group, arguing not for ‘me’ but for ‘us’ … that we have the ability to change te world.
A core issue in the current pandemic, he continues, “is whether in different nations and in the responses, there’s been an attempt to impose on people – to have power over people, which has been ineffective – or whether leaderships, governments have worked with their population and achieved power through the population in order to overcome the pandemic, or at least to contain it to some extent.”
Further videos in the series will appear on Wednesdays for the next three weeks.
The series so far:
Social influence during COVID-19 | Alex Haslam, Nik Steffens, Matthew Hornsey and Frank Mols
Improving the Response to COVID-19 | Jolanda Jetten and Jack Dovidio
Polarization During COVID-19 | Jolanda Jetten, Heme Preya Selvanathan and Charlie Crimston