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Matthew Normand

Psychology professor Matthew Normand

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Psychology professor works with international group studying human impact of COVID-19

Jun 4, 2020

For psychology faculty and students, COVID-19 has been more than a world health catastrophe. The pandemic has placed people into a veritable petri dish of observable human behavior. The very-much unwanted “social experiment,” so to speak, raises questions such as: 

  • Why do people choose to wear masks or to eschew them?
  • What goes into the mindset on following hand-washing guidance and expectations?
  • Why do some people choose to ignore social distancing guidelines?

Matthew Normand, professor of psychology at University of the Pacific, is working with an international group of psychologists studying these and other questions. The Behavioral Science Response to COVID-19 Working Group studies multi-faceted impacts of human behavior in reaction to the pandemic 

“The goal of the group is to disseminate evidence-based recommendations in areas where behavioral science can make a positive contribution,” Normand said. “We have developed research-based recommendations and disseminated them via infographics through outlets such as the Psychonomic Society.” 

Normand serves in an editing role for the group of 29 psychologists. 

“As a group, we throw out ideas of areas to study and put together work to help inform about the reasons people react the way they do,” he said. 

Jonathon Crystal, professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University and leader of the study group, explained the approach. 

“Most recommendations from the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention are fundamentally behavioral in nature because the spread of COVID-19 is, in part, based on human behavior,” he wrote. “Behavioral scientists are a unique resource for changing human behavior in ways that may reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus.” 

One recent effort involved the study of ways to keep people from touching their faces, which health officials say spreads the virus. Some suggestions to tackle the problem: wear perfume or bracelets, ask your partner to tell you each time you touch your face, think directly of people you are trying to protect and sit in chairs without armrests. 

The group has released other findings dealing with human behavior and tendencies during the pandemic. 

Normand said he applies some of the work he is editing to his psychology classrooms at Pacific. 

“I teach an undergraduate course on learning and behavior that involves basic research,” he said. “Much of the class is studying human behavior. After we started distance learning, COVID was a big part of our classroom work and discussions. Students must pass this to take my lab class. Really, what is happening with the pandemic is like a large lab-scale study for psychology students and faculty.” 

Normand said he expects faculty in all disciplines of psychology to apply the pandemic to their classroom lessons and labs. 

“There are just about as many types of psychology as there are psychologists,” he said. “Moving forward, there will be many different opportunities to learn—and to help people in the process.” 

Professor Normand’s web site: http://www.theskinnerbox.com. 

Follow Professor Normand on Twitter: @behscience.

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