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How do we navigate
the changes ahead?
How do we navigate
the changes ahead?
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Michael Ross, Cognitive & Social Psychology


Cognitive & Social Psychology

Michael Ross


Michael Ross, a social psychology faculty member at the University of Waterloo from 1971 – 2011, is now a Distinguished Professor Emeritus. His work has provided foundational insights into the cognitive and motivational processes shaping our conceptions and memories of ourselves, setting an intellectual stage for the motivated cognition research on self-esteem, relationships, and social judgment.

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

I can certainly say I don’t have a clue but I can make some guesses with fairly low confidence. The two areas that I would think about – and then I’ll focus on one – is inequality and care for older people in long-term care homes and nursing homes. Both of which have been exposed during the pandemic. If I had to guess in which area we might get movement, I would say not inequality. I think inequality is a tough nut to crack and I’m not sure we’re prepared to deal with it. On the other hand, there’s a chance that we’ll think more seriously about how we care about the frail elderly and that we will force governments to enact legislation and think about putting more funding into these contexts in order to prevent what should have been a totally foreseeable consequence in terms of the effects of COVID-19 and long term care homes. We shouldn’t take for granted that, of course, older people are going to die from this because the statistics are hard to come by. But if you look at some statistics that the CDC has put out recently, it shows that the incidence of COVID-19 among 60 to 79 year olds is actually quite a bit lower than it is among 40 to 49 year olds and 50 to 60 year olds. To you and me, that’s not a surprise because we wrote a paper that says the same thing with respect to scams. And I think it’s a similar answer. If you focus on, the human body and just talk about older people being more vulnerable and having more vulnerable immune systems and having other kinds of diseases that make them more vulnerable, of course, you’re going to assume older people are going to be more vulnerable. But if you think about lifestyle, and you realize that older people often don’t go to nightclubs and do the kinds of things that might expose them to this virus, older people living in non-institutional settings can actually do reasonably well. So it’s not just a function of age, it is a function of setting. And we have to do something about those settings. And I think there’s at least a small chance that we’ll do something.


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

You have to assume that it could happen again. We’ve been going along reasonably well, with not investing a lot in long-term care situations. And the public at least believes presumably that their loved ones that are in these homes are being well treated and being well looked after. If we assume that something like this is very unlikely to happen for the next hundred years or so, then we might be willing not to do the kind of investment we need. I think we have to assume that there’s a chance at least in the foreseeable future, that something like this could happen again, and we want to ward it off.


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

One concern I would have is that the effectiveness of government leaders and of so-called experts in the area of infectious disease has been mixed. There have been some locations where they’ve done splendidly and they’re well regarded. But there are lots of other locations in which neither the experts nor the government, that perhaps relies on the experts, have done all that well in predicting outcomes. “Don’t wear a mask, you don’t need to a wear mask, masks aren’t gonna prevent anything” and then a complete turnaround. And they express gross views with such incredible confidence. They’re one hundred percent sure masks aren’t effective, wash your hands, don’t wear masks. So what I’m worried about is a lack of trust, that we’ll come not to trust both experts and government officials in those provinces, states, countries, where they have frankly screwed up. And it’s easy to say hindsight is 20/20. And, how could they know? Well, some people did know. And in some states and some provinces, and in some countries, they did anticipate, and they did a lot better. So I think they should be held to account. But I’m worried there’ll be a lack of trust, and the consequences of that can be very negative. It can lead to walking away from the political process, not leading to experts, it could lead to a lot of things short of violence that are negative. Not voting, because what’s the point? They’re all useless. That’s one of the things, again with very low confidence because I don’t think you can predict worth a damn, that I would suggest might happen.


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

One of the things they have to think about seriously are, what are the alternatives? We need experts and we need government. But are there things that we can do to promote more effective governments to fund public health better and maybe have people who are more dedicated to looking at these things and no more? Maybe. So I think the realization that really, we don’t have a lot of alternatives, and that what we have to do is try and make things better and not walk away from them.


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

One of the things you have to do is, have something that you want to get out of bed for. A lot of that has been taken away from us, whether it’s work or social life or whatever. You have to have a reason to get up, a reason to look forward to the day and that might require that you indulge in new activities. So for example, one of the things I’m doing is working on French on Duolingo.

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