Melody Chao, Social Psychology
Melody Manchi Chao is an Associate Professor at the Department of Management and Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Business School. She is also a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science. Her research on diversity, culture, dispute resolution, and intergroup relations has been featured in media outlets around the world.
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?
What we observe is that people have started reaching out to family and friends that they have not been in touch with for a long time. And so people might feel a stronger sense of connectedness. This observation is also consistent with some recent research findings showing that compared with before the pandemic, people during this pandemic actually feel more connected with the community. They also found that a stronger sense of community is associated with the ability to buffer them against experience of the stress. During the early stage of the pandemic, there were concerned that people might feel more isolated, they feel lonelier as a result of social distancing and social isolation. What some study have shown is that people actually acquire resilience during this pandemic, psychologically, and there were no drastic change in terms of people’s experience of loneliness. If anything, people have a stronger sense of community connectedness with other people. That would be the potential positive change in terms of interpersonal domain. In terms of work domain, one observation is that in the past, usually we relied a lot on routine. And routines are something that are often unquestioned and unquestionable. People are just doing what they’re doing, because that’s how things have been; that’s how things are like. We don’t really ask questions about that. But with a pandemic, and with the change in work mode, people started asking questions like, is this essential? Is this necessary? Is this really a must? Is this travel a requirement? Do we have to travel to get this work done? People started asking questions that they might not have even considered asking before. And it helps to streamline some work processes. And some people actually found that to be more efficient in helping them to finish to get the work done.
What kind of wisdom will people need to capitalize on the positive societal and/or psychological change after the pandemic?
We need to accept the possibility that there is and will be a lot of uncertainty, we need to be able to adjust and adapt very quickly. Early on, there was still the feeling among people, that we’re waiting for things to get back to normal. But what a lot of people started thinking and come to realize is that things might not get back to how it used to be. And people start to think about the possibility that there might be what some call a “new normal,” that we need to adapt and adjust to. At this time, with so much uncertainty about how things will unfold, what will happen, being able to be open to the possibility that there are uncertainties that we need to deal with is something important. Naturally, people want to have some sense of certainty. It feels like at this time of change, an important part of our mindset is to adjust and adapt, is to accept the fact that there could be a lot of uncertainties and that we need to handle and try to able to be adapted to deal with.
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 salient one is about the possibility that this pandemic is actually exaggerating initial inequality in a community. We talk about positive changes that in order to benefit from the positive change, people need to be able to adapt and adjust very quickly to the changing situations, to the changing requirement of work or school. And in order to adapt and adjust what would be needed? It would be access to resources. So, if you have more resources, you might be better able to adjust and adapt. But if you have limited resources, it makes it difficult. For example, from the standpoint of schools, when the children can no longer attend school in person, some schools that have more resources are able to adjust and change very quickly they started offering classes online, whereas for other schools, they might not have the technical support and resources to do that to offer classes online. Then what happens to the students? And even if the school were able to offer online classes, are the children able to attend those online classes? It depends on the amount to current resources that they have access to. And adding to the complexity is that when parents no longer have work, or they might be working from home, this all tie into access to resources. People are talking about how this pandemic is exaggerating the initial inequality that the societies have. Whereas people who have more resources are more able in adapting to the changes, and people who have limited resources would be disadvantaged further, because of this rapid change. In addition to that, other layers of negative impact can also be psychological. Though we talk about positive change where people have a stronger sense of community, at the same time, we also see that there are people experiencing distress.
What kind of wisdom will people need to master to overcome major negative societal and/or psychological changes after the pandemic?
An important first step is the sense of awareness. We need to be aware of the fact that although some of us might be adapting and adjusting comfortably to these changes, there are people who are struggling when trying to adapt. It could be because they might have limited access to resources, they might have limited support in doing it. While some of us might be adapting comfortably, it might also be important to look around and see whether there are people that we can help and support and, of course, in an ideal world, on a community level, I think it’s also important for a community as a whole, to be a community leader, be aware of the needs of people who might potentially be in need of additional support. And I think on the part of individuals, I think that it’s also important to reach out for support when one needs it.
What piece of wisdom do people need to make it through the pandemic?
We need to accept the possibility that things might not change back to how it used to be, there is potentially a “new normal” that we need to adapt and adjust to. We need to accept the fact that there could be a lot of uncertainty that we need to deal with and handle. Things might change so quickly; change by the day or by the minute or by the hour. And so we need to be able to adjust and adapt. And I think it’s important to be aware of the fact that while some of us might be benefiting from the positive change, there are others who might be struggling in trying to adapt and adjust. It might be also a good time to reflect on how we might be able to contribute in helping not just ourselves to adjust and adapt, but help the community as a whole.
Themes discussed in this interview