I moved to Aberdeen in August so this my first spring here. When I imagined living in Scotland in spring, I thought about the wild beauty of the Grampian and Cairngorm mountains, the crisp sunshine of May, and the stunning, rolling Aberdeenshire countryside. I never imagined that, less than a year into life here, I would be packing up my office and physically leaving the School. It was actually really quite emotional for me to leave the building. I think we were all wondering: what will life look like in lockdown?
One thing which stood out for me when I arrived at Aberdeen is the founding aim of the University: open to all and dedicated to the pursuit of truth in the service of others. Over five hundred years old, and that is still our aim today. That is truly powerful. In fact, when you think about it, the motto is very powerful indeed. It tells us that Aberdeen University is not an ivory tower separated from society. Instead, we are a gathering of people whose purpose is to build expertise, ultimately in order to serve society.
In dealing with the anxiety and confusion caused by Covid-19, I thought about our University aim. It’s a little bit outside of my comfort zone but I was inspired to join a collective psychological study, run by the Psychological Accelerator which brings together research expertise across the world (1). We’re running a study aimed at understanding how to increase resilience and decrease anxiety in dealing with Covid-19 (2). Together, the study is being run by 190 labs across the world and we hope to recruit over 47,000 participants. If you would like to take part, the study can be found here. It will take around 30 minutes. I hope the study results will give us some really powerful psychological tools in our fight against Covid-19!
My own area of expertise is in social psychology with a particular focus on face perception. One reason I was drawn to social psychology is that it aims to explain phenomena in the real world and I think it has powerful insights to give us right now. Earlier this year I gave a lecture on social influence, and it has been really interesting relating these theories to some of the behaviours we’ve been seeing across the world. For example, social influence theories (3) suggest that people want things more when they’re scarce and also tend to follow what other people are doing, especially when people are uncertain….. sound familiar at all? Social psychology also gives us tools to change these behaviours: for example, memes helpfully emphasised a new, strong social norm not to stockpile toilet paper. Clear, consistent messages will be key to keeping these social norms going.
Perhaps the hardest part of lockdown is feeling socially as well as physically distant. So, I’m trying to keep in touch with colleagues and students as much as possible. I am lucky because a lot of my research can be conducted using online tools. I still go to staff coffee mornings, but I now meet my colleagues online. Aberdeen University is also very international in outlook and many of my students hail from all over the world. Before lockdown happened, we were already having virtual meetings – from Aberdeen to Italy, Germany, and even Australia! It’s just that now, my cat might zoom-bomb us…
When lockdown is over, the beautiful mountains, the rolling countryside, and the crisp sunshine (OK, we can hope) will still be here. In the meantime, the University might be virtual, but it is still very much open.
Dr Clare Sutherland is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Psychology