World after
How do we navigate
the changes ahead?
How do we navigate
the changes ahead?
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Leaf Van Boven, Social & Political Psychology


Social & Political Psychology

Leaf Van Boven

Van Boven

Professor Van Boven is a Principal Investigator of the Emotion, Judgment, Decision, and Identity Lab. His research, funded by the National Science and the Templeton Foundations, lies at the intersection of social, environmental, and political psychology. He has been an invited speaker at major universities in North America and Europe and has written for both academic audiences and news sources.

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?

The pandemic is obviously hugely disruptive. One of the things we know is that creates a sense of uncertainty and tentativeness and questioning about the way things work. Many people are asking what is it about the way our society works or the way my life works, that is working or not working. And that’s not inherently positive, except that it sets up a frame of mind that makes it easier to change habits because we start to ask ourselves what should be different. Hopefully, we have the wisdom and the insight to recognize things like social relationships are important, and we want more of those. That many pointless meetings are not so valuable, and we want fewer of those. I think that there’s an opportunity for positive change that needs to happen with some guidance. And when I say guidance, I really mean the kind of introspection and reflection that people can engage in about what are the important values. Hopefully that happens naturally. I think as psychologists and social behavioral scientists, we can help frame that question, help people think through the answers to those questions.

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

The issue isn’t so much do we have the wisdom, it’s do we think about what is wisdom mean for how we approach this situation? What do we know? How could we be better? It’s not that we don’t know the answer to what are the values we might aspire to, but rather than we’re not really aware of them in our day-to-day life, so the wisdom is really more about becoming more persistently aware of those things that we care about and the way we want to structure our lives.

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

It stems from the same source of tentativeness and uncertainty. We’re all asking what comes next? What does this mean for the way our society is structured? Those are difficult questions. And who poses the answers to those questions? Is it the case that autocratic leaders might answer those questions for us, might give us an easy answer where the answer is essentially, it’s because of them, it’s because of the out group. We know that people can be really easily pulled into these kinds of intergroup conflicts. Given that we’re in this moment of uncertainty and tentativeness, will we allow other people provide us with an easy answer that really steers us toward the negative. And it’s a very tempting psychological path to go down because it means blaming other people and not really confronting the difficult challenges in our own lives or in our own societies.

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

It’s really reflecting on what we want to influence us. That really sort of asking in a careful way, what is influencing me? And are these the influences I want to shape my worldview? And I think for many of us we’ll realize, no, I don’t want my worldview shaped by kind of nasty human tendencies, I want to think better and be better. I think most people have that default response.

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

We are far more socially connected than we have appreciated. And that carries tremendous threats. Obviously because we can spread disease, but we can also spread more positive emotions, more positive social connections, and we really haven’t fully appreciated how socially connected we are. Coming to that appreciation is itself an important source of wisdom. That it’s something both to be valued and guarded and protected in our interactions with other people.
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