World after
How do we navigate
the changes ahead?
How do we navigate
the changes ahead?
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Harry Reis, Social Psychology


Social Psychology

Harry Reis


Harry Reis is Dean’s Professor in Arts, Sciences and Engineering, and Professor of Psychology at the University of Rochester. A leader in the field of psychology, he helped launch the field of relationship science, has served as president of the International Society for the Study of Personal Relationships, and is a recipient of the Distinguished Career Award and the University’s Goergen Award.

Transcription of the video


Which domain or aspect of social life will show the most significant positive societal and/or psychological change in response to the pandemic?

I think people are realizing much more than they did in the past just how important to face interaction really is. When this pandemic started doing things on zoom was kind of unique and it was kind of interesting. I had a birthday party at the end of March, and we had 20 people on zoom, and that was kind of fun. But over time, what I’m coming to realize, and I think many other people are realizing this as well, is that video interaction and digital interactions, is just no substitute for face-to-face interaction. And what we’re missing is our ability to really connect with other people in our social world, in a face-to-face way. Sure, most of us are quarantining in place, perhaps with a spouse, perhaps with a friend, with our children. So you’re getting some of that face-to-face contact. But what we’re missing is our contact with these other people. And I think we’re discovering that those contacts are also important for our lives. Certainly close relationships are important and those of us who studied them, sometimes overemphasize the importance of close relationships. But other connections we have are also important; our connections with our co-workers, our associates, the person in your poker group, or your reading group, people you see it health club, even maybe the person who cuts your hair, and we’re missing those kind of connections. And I think that what this pandemic is really teaching us is just how important those connections really are.


What kind of wisdom will people need to capitalize on the positive societal and/or psychological change after the pandemic?

The wisdom that people will need is to take what they’ve realized and really follow through on it. In modern life, we’ve learned to depend on social media, texting, email, because those are all much more convenient ways of connecting with other people. They’re easy. I read some statistics recently that said, the average adolescent interacts for only 40 minutes a day with someone else in a face-to-face way. It’s going to be all too easy to fall back into that rut when this pandemic ends, then when we get back to our normal, would want to start to fall back into the same routines and procedures that we’ve had before. And what we’re going to need to learn to do is to recognize just what it was that we were missing so much. And then to go out and really make that happen – to prioritize actually connecting in a face-to-face way with other people, rather than getting lazy and relying on digital communication again.


Which domain or aspect of social life will show the most significant negative societal and/or psychological change in response to the pandemic?

The most negative change that I’ve observed during this pandemic is a loss of faith and trust in the institutions and governments and organizations in our lives. When this all started we were all looking to the news media, to the CDC, to our governments to give us guidance about how to get through this safely. And over time, the kind of chaotic reaction that we’ve had has eroded that trust. So right now, lots of people don’t trust the CDC, they certainly don’t trust the president. They perhaps don’t trust the governor. They don’t trust the mayors in their community. And certainly, it’s not just the pandemic that has done this. The various other crises that have happened in the last few months have contributed to that as well. But our trust in institutions and even our trust in our neighbors has eroded to the point where people don’t know who or what to believe. And to be sure, those institutions are responsible for some of this. The CDC has given very mixed guidance, some of their guidance has not been useful. The president has suggested things that were downright nonsensical and even dangerous. And you look at some other countries, so I’m really struck by New Zealand the government there immediately did a complete and total shutdown. Six weeks after that, there’s no Coronavirus in New Zealand, it’s gone. It’s completely gone and their society is opening up again. Meanwhile, we’re three or four months into this having record numbers of new cases. It’s so totally natural to not have faith in our institutions when they’ve been doing such a terrible job of giving us guidance to get through this. And it’s going to be difficult and time consuming for us to get out of that.


What kind of wisdom will people need to master to overcome major negative societal and/or psychological changes after the pandemic?

It’s going to take two different skills. The first is patience. These things are not going to reverse overnight. Even if we get government leaders who are more competent and more willing to trust and heed science, they’re not going to just magically come in and make everything all right again, it’s going to take a lot of time to restore the infrastructure and the base that’s necessary for people to have trust in our institutions. We’re going to need to see changes in laws, we’re going to need to see the procedures changing. We’re going to need to see people working in these institutions who are not political, but instead really have human welfare, and the science that’s needed to back it up. That’s going to take a lot of time to happen, and we’re going to need to be patient when it doesn’t happen instantly. Second thing is we’re going to need to be open minded in dealing with this, and in recognizing these changes as they take time to happen, they’re not going to happen overnight. And we’re going to have to listen, right now, we’re all so imbued with cynicism that it seems like nobody is willing to trust these institutions anymore. Well, this isn’t going to magically change, even if we get open hearted in recognizing these changes, and be willing to acknowledge that these changes have happened, and that is going to take careful listening and compassion.


What piece of wisdom do people need to make it through the pandemic?

People need to recognize that this too will pass. But one has to be patient. It’s not going to pass just because we want it to pass. People are itching to get back into their normal lives, find ourselves the time and the space to enjoy life as much as we can until that time, and just keeping our eye on the fact that it will happen someday.

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