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Psychological Research and Covid: Are a Few Notes Necessary?

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As cognitive experimental psychologists, we have, for the past decades, thrived on key principles that made our experimental work the forefront of research. For example, our recent work on monolingual and bilingual Russians provided valuable and complimentary evidence on cognitive processes involved in acquisition and development of language in different writing systems. 

However, such findings were based on the principle of one-to-one and carefully planned series of experimental work involving large number of participants and cross validating the findings with those reported in other writing systems following similar protocol. 

But has Covid changed this line of research? At least for the time being it seems that planning such large-scale one-to-one experimental work on carefully selected samples of sizeable proportion is not feasible.

Instead, online research, interviews via Skype, Zoom, and so on are gaining popularity. Perhaps there may even be a shift to studies based on qualitative research designs. This could be catastrophic for experimental research in cognitive psychology.  

Another impact of Covid is the new top of the to-do-list of psychological research. With lockdown and the ‘new normal’ in mind, studies are aiming to examine the psychological effects on children, families, social interaction, sporting behaviour and so on; for example, the impact of lockdown on family relationships, or the expression of children’s feelings via their drawings during the lockdown.

The immediate question, however, is how applicable and relevant psychological theories and findings dating to pre-Covid are in the search for an answer to the kind of studies mentioned above? 

For example, when interpreting findings from the impact of lockdown on family relationships, how useful are the theories and studies on family relationships published during the time when there was no worldwide social distancing or self-isolation? Or what can past research tell us about the way children express their feelings in their drawings in the current lockdown pandemic?

Furthermore, as the differential impact of Covid on different cultures and ethnicities and socioeconomic status is coming to the fore, how will psychological theory be modified to accommodate such disparities?   

Indeed, it seems that Covid has introduced a new variable to psychological research at three levels: before, during and the new ‘normal’. Past research, whilst valid in its own right, may not be very informative to explain the psychological impacts of the current worldwide pandemic.

This new chapter of the psychological research will bring a potential behaviour change for both researchers and participants. The habits acquired during the lockdown through distant work and learning offers a plethora of new tools and potential interventions, along with practical and ethical challenges. According to the Covid Social Science Projects tracker where researchers can register their pandemic related projects, more than 300 planned studies have been listed by the time this article is published.

No doubt, the Covid focused projects are as important as equally popular all over the world. The question is how research and experimental work can be adjusted to the new reality in the current competitive environment. Equally important is to ensure that the participants will not be affected by the sensitive nature of the Covid-related topics.  

One major ethical issue related to experimental research during and post Covid is the ownership and storage of data especially in view of GDPR. Although it is possible to switch to remote data collection via online experimental software, it remains crucial to maintain participant anonymity and confidentiality to the utmost standard required by our profession. 

What is clear is that we are now in the midst of the pandemic, it is the ‘during’ phase of any psychological research, and it is the critical time for researchers to accumulate valuable information that provides a baseline to compare the past, the present and the ‘new normal’ in psychological research.

Dr Evgenia Volkovyskaya is a Chartered Psychologist and Lecturer in Psychology and Mental Health at the University of Northampton; Dr Ilhan Raman is a Chartered Psychologist and a Senior Lecturer at Middlesex University; Dr Bahman Baluch is a Chartered Psychologist and is an Associate Professor at Middlesex University. 

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