For psychologists, the pandemic has shown people’s capacity for cooperation | Stephen Reicher

The government likes to think the public can’t be trusted – but Britain’s experience in 2020 shows the reverse is true

I have worked as a psychologist for over 40 years, but Covid-19 has projected the analysis of human behaviour into public discourse in a way I have never before witnessed. The spread of Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease Covid-19, depends upon physical proximity between people. Consequently, fighting the infection means changing fundamental aspects of our everyday routines. We have all been challenged to reduce the social contacts and intimacies that we so cherish as social animals.

Covid has done much to further the study of behaviour by bringing it into people’s homes and day-to-day conversations. In countless radio phone-ins and television news programmes, magazine articles and newspaper reports, discussions of the bases of adherence and resistance to Covid regulations have become commonplace. Most obviously, there has been intense scrutiny over the extent of our psychological resilience, whether we are able to adapt our behaviour to tough times, to give up the things we value – and if so for how long.

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