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Easing the impact of the pandemic

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 Finkelhave 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
  • Leadership
  • 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.