Submitted on Friday, 5/29/2020, at 12:21 PM

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, head and face coverings were not widely worn in Western countries. Now that social norm is changing, and Scientific American recently went to Catherine Sanderson, Amherst’s Manwell Family Professor of Life Sciences (Psychology), to discuss the dynamic of a new habit becoming an everyday habit.

“Social norms can change rapidly, and it doesn’t take everybody,” said Sanderson, author of the new Why We Act: Turning Bystanders into Moral Rebels (Harvard University Press).

She cited an online experiment conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, in which subjects engaged in social coordination to assign names to an object. The experiment concluded that it only took a quarter of the participants to set the tone.

“They become the social influencers, the trendsetters,” Sanderson said. “You get this sweep.”

“As somebody who studies social norms, it’s astonishing. It’s like a flip in a blink of an eye in terms of this change,” she told the CBC’s Mark Gollom.”I think what we’ve seen is that this is just an unprecedented time. And that’s something that leads to very, very fast shifts.”