As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, the public turns to the medical and scientific community for the therapies and vaccines that will eventually mitigate the disease. But the pandemic is taking place within a social context, and the social sciences have much guidance to offer as the public seeks to navigate a crisis on a scale that few have experienced before.
More than 40 leading researchers — including Weinberg College political scientist James Druckman and psychologist Eli Finkel — have collaborated to analyze what the social and behavioral sciences can tell us about current responses to the pandemic. The interdisciplinary team synthesized more than 250 prominent peer-reviewed studies, chapters, and books to produce a wide-ranging paper for Nature Human Behavior.
The paper offers readily applicable insights for policymakers, leaders, and the public in six key areas:
- Navigating threats
- Social and cultural influences on behavior
- Communicating science
- Moral decision making
- Stress and coping
“The paper makes clear that the social sciences provide a body of knowledge that helps understand responses to COVID-19 and provides concrete suggestions about how best to respond,” Druckman said.
Among the researchers’ findings:
- Technology can and should be used to alleviate the isolation many of those in quarantine are experiencing, especially older adults.
- Public health messages should focus on how protecting others benefits the public as a whole.
- Leaders should emphasize the emphasize the “shared social identity” of the groups that they lead, which helps people feel less helpless and more hopeful.
Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research offers a comprehensive over of the paper’s many findings.