President Elect Biden must now unite us in meeting the challenges of the pandemic, the economy, the climate, and social ills. To do this, he can use a powerful tool of science, modeling.
Modeling is observing a person showing a particular behavior and then engaging in that behavior. One learns to behave a certain way just by observing a person behaving that way. And, if the model gets a reward for a particular behavior, it is even more likely the observer will engage in that behavior.
For example, watching a person on a television program or on social media show kindness and honesty in interactions with others, inspires the viewer to show kindness and honesty. The viewer might also see that person rewarded for those behaviors by the recipient smiling and saying “thank you”. Likewise, watching a person insulting others and repeating lies increases those behaviors in the viewer, especially if there is a reward for doing so. The reward can be as simple as then feeling superior over others.
When the President of the United States models bigotry and lying, followers see these behaviors as ones that will get them what they want. When the President of the United States models respect and honesty, followers will show each other the same.
President Elect Biden can demonstrate listening with empathy and then acting with compassion. If he models these behaviors on social media, he can heal the divide as more and more people begin to show these behaviors towards each other.
If he models these behaviors in his interactions with politicians, he will increase the chance that those politicians will also show these behaviors in developing a consensus where everyone wins.
Modeling is such a powerful learning device that even advertisers use it to get viewers to buy their product. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi were prosocial models who were able to inspire global social change. Now President Elect Biden will have no difficulty consistently modeling prosocial behaviors that are his second nature. These behaviors will then bring us together to create a better country for all of us. We will learn to listen to each other rather than denigrating those who think or act differently from us. Empathy, respect, compassion, and honesty come naturally to him. And, because these are the behaviors of love, if we all start showing them, they can replace hate.
Bandura, A. (1986., Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. (pp. 169-195).
Bandura, A. (1965). Influence of models’ reinforcement contingencies on the acquisition of imitative responses. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1, 589-595.