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How do we navigate
the changes ahead?
How do we navigate
the changes ahead?
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Yukiko Uchida, Cultural Psychology & Wellbeing


Cultural Psychology & Wellbeing

Yukiko Uchida


Dr. Uchida started her academic career as a visiting researcher at the University of Michigan and Stanford University, and is currently a Professor of Social and Cultural Psychology at the Kokoro Research Center, Kyoto University. As a social psychologist, she studies the psychological mechanisms behind the experience of emotions, such as happiness. She is a 2019 – 20 Berggruen Fellow at CASBS.

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?

My own research on the Great East Japan earthquake nine years ago suggested that people re-evaluate their ordinary lives and the strengths and their feelings of the gratitude towards family members or social networks. This coronavirus pandemic is also affecting their social bonds and we can re-evaluate how precious each social bond we have. Then, in Japan, the most positive changes that people are able to see, the balance between work and private life. In general the Japanese business people stay in their office longer time than other countries. Before the pandemic Japanese businessman, feel pressured by collectivistic organizational culture to work together and monitor each other. So the evaluation system is based on long working hours, the long working order signal for the high motivation and the commitment to the workplace in Japan. In addition due to the centralization in the Tokyo area, many business persons should commute by crowded trains and the average length of the commuting is around an hour. One way, I mean this will total two hours per day. So now after coronavirus pandemic working at home is more likely to be prevailent in Japanese context too. Then we can extend our family time and maybe this is the kind of moment to re-evaluate how precious our significant others and social relationships closer to each other. And the impact is far greater than other countries I think, maybe because of the gap between before the coronavirus pandemic and after coronavirus pandemic. So after teleworking, they found that it is not necessary at least some types of jobs, to go to the office while they’re sacrificing time for a long commute. Their now working style and the cultural norm should be changed. And in terms of the universal perspective, we can be more flexible to connect internationally with each other via SMS and online communication. Before it was very common to visit some people by flying long distance to have a meeting. Holding an online meeting was optional at that time, but now it is becoming a standard that even small children can communicate with their family and relatives online. This is a new way of feeling connected each other so this is the kind of the positive impact to seek our new social life. So online and seeking work-life balance.


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

We need to improve our skill of the imagination in communication to supplement the missing information via online. So online conversation is easy, but it has a lack of contextual information. So sometimes many people say for example, the Japanese use high context information during a conversation, like a small signal of the emotion or some behavior. So it is usually easier for communicating online when the target person is already known. Because we can supplement the missing information with our knowledge of him or her, but it is difficult to communicate with the strangers online because we cannot have a background information. In that case, to avoid such kind of a risky perception, we need to be tolerant. And we should be explicitly aware of what kind of cognitive heuristic we have when interacting with other people online. We have to ask ourselves: Do I have any stereotype, or do I have a cognitive bias? Having such an alert toward ourselves should be quite important to have a nice positive change in this pandemic time.


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

In a Japanese context, they still feel that we have to monitor the work of colleagues or subordinates, even when the employees work at home. It is due to the system of evaluation, which depend heavily on an effort rather than the outcome. Maybe some types of the cultural context they pay attention to the time to make effort rather than outcome. Under such cultural context we need to have some changes and without such changes this might have some negative impact because some people just try not to have evaluation by outcome of the work. This is kind of big challenge for us to shift from the effort base evaluation system to outcome evaluation system. It’s kind of stressful for us. And we have another impersonal small chat, type of conversation. So, for some people who do not want to be disturbed by others, reducing the possibility to have a chat with others could have a positive impact, but others, however, maybe they miss such kind of the refreshment or brainstorming or information sharing, we usually obtained from the small chat in social interactions. But if they have no such kind of relationship and they feel lonely, then this kind of change also worsen their feeling of loneliness. That maybe should be overcome from some societal wisdom to protect the people from the feeling of loneliness.


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

We have to re-evaluate the social network seeking strategy and also security network. I mean, not only focus attention to the positive social network, but rather, maybe we have to think about the secure network of the social life as a social security system, so the infrastructural base of the social bonding is necessary to be built up. So nowadays SMS is based on the automatic or more likely to be promotion focus seeking behavior to seek some partner, communication partner. Well, maybe not only that kind of the part, but also maybe we have to stretch out our security network. For those who are not so extraverted, for those who are not seeking new opportunity to have a friendship, rather, maybe we have to think about the person who are more likely to be introverted, more likely to feel loneliness, or more likely to feel sadness or hesitation towards the social network. So I think we have to build up some secure network for such kind of people.


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

It is important to stop and rethink about what we have defined as normal life, as very normal or not. Was it normal to commute more than one hour a day? Was it normal not to talk to your family members because you were so busy? Was it normal to fly frequently to other areas in busy schedule? Was it normal to make a lot of consumption in a daily basis? I think in this situation we have to think about what is our individual happiness and what is our societal happiness. Recently, I think before coronavirus pandemic, we defined some normal life as lots of consumption, lots of mobility and busy life we defined as normal. But maybe, it’s kind of too much for us and also we have to think about the good balance between individual level happiness and also societal happiness which can construct each other. But sometimes, of course, they’re controversial or conflict each other. The pursuit of individual happiness and selfish behavior makes society uncomfortable sometimes, or sometimes the individual happiness is sacrificed for gross profit of society. Now we have time to think about what is very valued. Because of the very strong pressure by pandemic, we have time to stop and think about what is very normal and what we are seeking for future happiness.

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