Sometimes the media are complicit in focusing disproportionately on the exception and run the risk of turning the exception into the rule, Stephen Reicher argues in a brilliant thread on government and media coronavirus communication.


First published in January 2021.


Stephen Reicher
Professor of Social Psychology at the University of St Andrews.

A telling conversation on @SkyNews earlier. 'How long will people stick to COVID rules' they ask? "You keep on asking that, as if the public are the weak link" I reply "when the evidence suggests that, to the contrary, the public have been strong but let down by weak Government"
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The interviewer persists
"but will people keep complying".
I say "I wish we could stop putting all the focus on the minority who are non-adherent. It's like on trying to stem a trickle in the dam, while ignoring the flood coming through the breach - weak rules - next to it.
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Still, the interviewer won't let go: "'But why do people go to house parties"
"Well in part", I say, "if the media insist on telling us that everybody else is at the party (and so set a norm of violation) we will start to ask, why shouldn't we"
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And so we end. Then the interviewer introduces the next item: "well, despite what Stephen Reicher says, the police issued fines to 300 people at a party yesterday..."
She (and not just she, this is emblematic of scores of interviews) just doesn't get it.
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You focus disproportionately on the exception, you run the risk of turning the exception into the rule.
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[This piece was first published in PMP Magazine on 25 January 2021. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]

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