Health Psychology & COVID-19

After the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Professor David Sherman of UC Santa Barbara conducted a series of interviews (in Spring and Summer, 2020) with public health workers, policy scholars, and health psychology researchers to discuss their experience and research related to this global pandemic. With grants from the Association for Psychological Science Fund for Teaching and Public Understanding of Psychological Science and UCSB Instructional Development Professor Sherman and his students compiled these materials for use by other instructors of Health Psychology as well as the broader community.

There is also a syllabus for the project. (Link to syllabus).

In addition to the 13 individual videos, described below, there is also a 65-minute compilation video that includes excerpts from the videos and additional narration from Spring 2021 to provide some context.

In Winter 2022, Professor Sherman and his Psych 159: Health Psychology class at UCSB conducted follow-up interviews with 8 of the speakers from 2020, along with 4 new interviews. In this round of interviews, the students asked the questions, and the guests reflected on what had changed and what they had learned over the two years of the pandemic.

If you have questions about using the Health Psychology & COVID-19 materials, please contact Professor David Sherman via email:

Health Psychology & COVID-19 Compilation

May 24, 2021

This is a compilation of videos taken in 2020 for the Health Psychology & COVID-19 Video Project. 

Questions or Comments, contact Professor David Sherman:

Unit 1A - Hongbo Yu & David Sherman

May 29, 2020

Hongbo Yu from UCSB interviews David Sherman about the Health Psychology & COVID-19 project. 

Unit 1B - Traci Mann

May 20, 2020

David Sherman interviews Traci Mann from University of Minnesota about teaching Health Psychology in the era of COVID-19.

Unit 1C - John Updegraff

March 01, 2022

David Sherman and the Health Psychology Class discuss with John Updegraff the following questions:

  • [7:57] Do policies, such as requiring proof of vaccination, help bridge the divide in attitudes and behaviors between different political groups? How can we further create norms that defy factors such as political affiliation?
  • [18:19] How can we convince “anti-maskers” and “anti-vaxxers” to shift their stances after months of inaccurate messaging?
  • [24:48] Over the span of the pandemic how has people’s trust in the experts, such as the CDC changed?

Unit 2A - Howard Leventhal

May 27, 2020

David Sherman interviews Howard Leventhal from Rutgers University about his research on the 1957-1958 influenza pandemic and the common sense model of illness, and the relevance of this work for COVID-19.

Unit 2B - Josh Kuntzman

June 17, 2020

David Sherman interviews Josh Kuntzman from UCSB about his experience as someone who contracted and then recovered from COVID-19, and his COVID-19 educational efforts including a Youtube video he made while ill. 

Unit 2C - Barbara Herr Harthorn

May 26, 2022

Health Psychology student Michelle Rivas discusses with Barbara Herr Harthorn the following questions:

  • [3:55] What are your thoughts on how personal responsibility has been assigned to individuals, rather than the systems at play, and how has this affected vulnerable, at-risk communities such as essential workers or low-income communities?
  • [8:57] Has individualism affected attitudes towards vaccination and mask-wearing?
  • [15:51] What is risk perception in general, and how have you examined it in your work?
  • [25:53] Is the false sense of safety that people have felt with their friends and family throughout the pandemic something you’ve seen in your work involving TB and farm workers?
  • [35:47] How has ableism and the history of eugenics in the US affected our conversations around COVID-19?

Unit 2D - Susan Cassels

February 15, 2022

Health Psychology student Eliza Howard discusses with Susan Cassels the following questions:

  • [1:21] Are there are similarities between how COVID and HIV are spread?
  • [4:23] Are there similarities between how previous diseases in general have spread and how COVID is spread?
  • [6:38] Are there differences in patterns of infection between Omicron and previous eras?
  • [10:21] Was there anything that surprised you about how COVID was spread?
  • [12:25] Could you summarize the social determinants of health model and give a few examples of how it is related to COVID?
  • [15:08] Could you share your thoughts on how where someone lives affects your chances of contracting or otherwise being affected by COVID?
  • [18:23] How could someone’s environment directly affect their behavior surrounding COVID?
  • [19:16] What, if any, reforms in areas like healthcare infrastructure, workplace practices, housing policy, or in general might come out of the pandemic?

Unit 3A - Robert Sapolsky

June 24, 2020

David Sherman interviews Robert Sapolsky from Stanford University about stress and social affiliation in response to COVID-19.

Additional Resources: 

Unit 3B - Robert Sapolsky

February 14, 2022

David Sherman and the Health Psychology Class discuss with Robert Sapolsky the following questions:

  • [9:39] Was Sweden’s attempt to achieve herd immunity successful? If not, is herd immunity possible to achieve, and if so, how?
  • [12:44] What is a better approach, compared to just telling people to social distance, to get people to social distance?
  • [14:28] What long term consequences will people face from the stress of social isolation? How will this impact their ability to cope with normal life stressors?
  • [17:06] How is the stress experienced from threats to health, such as illness or disease, different from the stress experienced from stressors such as work obligations, finances, divorce, etc.?
  • [19:38] Are people’s health behaviors regarding COVID-19 correlated with their stress levels? How does this subsequently affect their mental and physical health?
  • [24:06] Some people feel as though their selfless efforts to protect others are in vain because they see other people being irresponsible. Will these feelings of frustration develop into actual consequences for those who haven’t been upholding their social contract?
  • [30:04] Do you think the rise in deaths of despair might be the new epidemic hitting the US, and did COVID exacerbate the number of these deaths that we are seeing?
  • [32:19] Will other anxiety disorders become more prevalent in individuals who have dealt with the pandemic, such as social anxiety, generalized anxiety, even OCD?

Unit 3C - Edwin Feliciano

May 28, 2020

David Sherman interviews Edwin Feliciano, MD from UCSB Student Health about mental health and how UCSB Student Health is adapting to the challenges COVID-19 and providing services to students.

Unit 3D - Edwin Feliciano

March 07, 2022

David Sherman and the Health Psychology Class discuss with Edwin Feliciano the following questions:

  • [8:22] What are the potential mental health consequences of the increase in virtual connection instead of in-person connection?
  • [13:29] How can you gauge treatment options for patients without misattributing their problems to pandemic-related issues?
  • [20:31] Are there aspects of the telehealth system that can be folded into the existing system to improve how we deliver mental health care?
  • [29:08] Now that we have a vaccine and a better understanding of COVID, how and in what ways has the emotional response to the pandemic changed?

Unit 3E - Nancy Sin

December 22, 2020

David Sherman interviews Nancy Sin from the University of British Columbia about teaching Health Psychology as well as her research on the role of aging in coping with the ups and downs of daily life during COVID-19.  

Additional Resources:

Unit 3F - Nancy Sin

February 28, 2022

David Sherman and the Health Psychology Class discuss with Nancy Sin the following questions:

  • [15:33] Why do you believe that there is a separation of health and wellbeing in the older population that isn’t seen in the younger population?
  • [20:34] When older people were starting to get vaccinated, did younger and more middle-aged people better adapt to stressors of COVID-19?
  • [23:54] Seeing as how older adults are reported to be less emotionally reactive and can respond to stress in a more adaptive way, which are signs of purposefulness, combined with their demonstration of more pro-empathetic behavior through volunteering, could it be argued that feelings of purpose are correlated with empathetic behavior?
  • [29:47] Your past work found that older adults showed ‘better emotional well-being and less reactivity to stressors” than younger adults in the early stages of the pandemic. Do you think this may have changed with the progression of the pandemic?
  • [31:10] How much does COVID-19 increase the emotional reactivity that younger people experience?
  • [36:55] Do you think that faculty fared better when adjusting to remote learning compare to students in terms of well-being? Were there any unique challenges associated with trying to teach remotely and connect with your students?
  • [40:33] How has the pandemic influenced the use of the biopsychosocial model and its application in the healthcare system? 
  • [47:37] Does the satisfaction from volunteering have a certain threshold to experience benefits from it?

Unit 4A - Jeffrey Fisher and William Fisher

April 30, 2020

David Sherman interviews Jeffrey Fisher from University of Connecticut and William Fisher from University of Western Ontario about the Information-Motivation-Behavioral Skills Model and COVID-19.

Unit 4B - Angela Duckworth

June 08, 2020

David Sherman interviews Angela Duckworth from the University of Pennsylvania about promoting health behaviors (wearing masks, getting vaccinated when a vaccine becomes available) to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Additional Resources: 



Unit 4C - Angela Duckworth

February 08, 2022

David Sherman and the Health Psychology Class discuss with Angela Duckworth the following questions:

  • [6:50] What mechanisms have you found helpful in increasing the likelihood of people to show up to get vaccinated?
  • [15:57] What can be done to encourage mask wearing and getting vaccinated for the people who are still very reluctant to do so?
  • [20:52] In hindsight, do you think that there was a better way to communicate "flip-flopping" information? Does the "flip-flopping" of information in terms of mask compliance explain the reluctance behind getting vaccinated in some individuals?
  • [27:09] What are your thoughts on the decision to allow vaccinated individuals to virtually abandon mask wearing both outdoors and indoors during the late spring and early summer of 2021, and how this was revoked only months later?
  • [32:28] Would you say increased vaccination rates are due to improved health messaging or a different factor? Do you believe this trajectory will continue and the country will achieve a higher vaccination rate?
  • [36:35] Do you think there are distinct cultural aspects that underlie the adamant resistance to vaccination in this country, compared to other countries such as Hong Kong, and are there certain incentive methods that could target/overcome these cultural propensities?
  • [42:17] Do you think that cultural or ethnic identity affects mask-wearing practices and vaccination hesitancy during COVID-19? 
  • [45:29] With the increase in COVID-19 due to the Omicron variant, is there now more that needs to be done by the government and scientists than pushing mask wearing and social distancing as social norms and providing free masks, testing, and vaccinations? 
  • [48:26] If you had been in charge of public messaging with regards to the COVID vaccine, what would you have done differently? How do you think politics in the United States have influenced people’s decisions to get vaccinated?

Unit 5A - Paige Farrenkopf

April 16, 2020

David Sherman interviews Paige Farrenkopf, UCSB 2019 alum, about working for the Santa Barbara Department of Public Health.

Unit 5B - Paige Farrenkopf

February 22, 2022

David Sherman and the Health Psychology Class discuss with Paige Farrenkopf the following questions:

  • [8:12] Are there socioeconomic differences in the COVID-19 vaccination uptake and what are some strategies that are currently being used to reduce these differences?
  • [13:30] What do you suggest we do to maximize preventative measures outside of UCSB? Should county or city representatives get involved?
  • [19:37] Do you think that contact tracing apps can be effectively used and implemented in Santa Barbara County as it has been used in some other countries?
  • [26:33] After working in the public health sector and trying to track COVID-19 cases as a case lead for the epidemiology department, what has been your experience working with clients who are not taking this pandemic as seriously as they should? What recommendations do you have for improving our current and future pandemic response?
  • [33:24] Now that the pandemic has existed in the US for more than two years, has the contact tracing methodology at the Santa Barbara Public Health Department changed? 
  • [37:17] How has the importance of contact tracing evolved with vaccinations and with the new Omicron variant? How is Santa Barbara County now supporting its residents who have tested positive?

Unit 5C - Robert Kaplan

May 07, 2020

David Sherman interviews Robert Kaplan from Stanford University about public health and COVID-19.

Additional Resources: 

Unit 5D - Robert Kaplan

February 14, 2022

David Sherman and the Health Psychology Class discuss with Robert Kaplan the following questions:

  • [12:09] What do you think the US government and its citizens should be doing right now?
  • [18:06] You presented data indicating that physicians’ deaths during the pandemic were about 75% lower than expected due to aggressive use of PPE and increased caution; however, your article was published before the nationwide shortage of PPE for healthcare workers. If you had conducted your study after the #GetmePPE movement, would you speculate a difference in your data?
  • [25:55] Do you think that there is an inequitable impact of this virus across social classes? What can be done to address these issues?
  • [28:58] Does the United States’ approach to sickness among the general population in part stem from our Capitalistic ideology? 
  • [37:00] If you could change one aspect of how the population dealt with the pandemic what would it be and why?
  • [40:22] As the director of research and professor of medicine at Stanford University, what do you think about how COVID will end? 
  • [42:53] Some hospitals are allowing COVID-19 positive healthcare workers that are asymptomatic or even sometimes symptomatic staff to continue work in hospitals when necessary. What is your opinion on this and what are the potential physical and psychological effects that it will have on physicians?

Unit 5E - Lynn Fitzgibbons

March 01, 2022

Health Psychology students Cameron Culver, Jose, Zavala, and Samantha Keppler discuss with Lynn Fitzgibbons the following questions:

  • [5:51] What kinds of long-term health effects do you expect to see from those who have contracted COVID?
  • [7:08] What might the long-term complications look like?
  • [8:53] How are the variants, such as Omicron, formed? Do you expect another variant to emerge in the future, or could this the last type seeing as COVID cases are decreasing?
  • [15:22] Are there fewer case numbers right now because the BA.1 was so highly contagious?
  • [16:16] Where can we get the most accurate information about COVID? 
  • [20:21] Is the dropping of mask mandates right now supported by scientific data, or will it be more temporary as it was in the past?

Unit 6A - Dairine Pearson

April 22, 2020

David Sherman interviews Dairine Pearson, LCSW, UCSB 2006 alum, about her experiences with COVID-19 as a grief counselor and in hospice care.

Unit 6B - Dairine Pearson

March 02, 2022

David Sherman and the Health Psychology Class discuss with Dairine Pearson the following questions:

  • [4:05] Does an elderly person in a nursing home who gets COVID-19 face a more intense illness or symptoms because of family not being allowed to visit?
  • [9:00] Would you say that the use of technology during the pandemic had any major learning experiences that you can now use face-to-face with clients? Has it changed your outlook on patient care in any way?
  • [16:19] Have you noticed a difference in the grief felt by your clients at the beginning of the pandemic versus now?
  • [20:07] Some argue that it is important to teach front-line health workers basic psychological coping skills to handle the stress they are facing during work. Others argue that the government should provide therapy sessions for these workers. For someone who works in counseling, which option do you think would be the best for health workers mental health?
  • [23:26] Have you seen a decline in health due to the psychological stressors such as social distancing and isolation protocols? How have you been holding up during this pandemic as a counselor?
  • [29:32] Is there a difference between how people grieved in the beginning of the pandemic versus now, and could this be due to the added psychological stressors?

Unit 6C - Cameron Brick

May 13, 2020

David Sherman interviews Cameron Brick (UCSB PhD 2015) from University of Amsterdam (NL) about environmental psychology and COVID-19.

Additional Resources: 

Unit 6D - Cameron Brick

February 02, 2022

David Sherman and the Health Psychology Class discuss with Cameron Brick the following questions:

  • [5:10] As it has been almost two years since your interview and a vaccine has been developed, has your view of risk perceptions associated with COVID changed?
  • [7:07] Do you think the novelty of the coronavirus has faded over time, or does it still produce differences in individual behavior?
  • [8:21] In your discussion of a simple threat (getting sick) versus a complex one (climate change), you said, “a lot of these things we have to do are available to us right now, we just have to do them.” Do you think that we have accomplished those things yet, regarding COVID?
  • [10:37] Why do you think people are not doing things to protect themselves from COVID?
  • [12:41] Though many believe the pandemic and climate change is an emergency, how come the same people still engage in behaviors that perpetuate them?
  • [15:07] As a society that primarily cares about the well-being of the person, how do we get age groups who are not directly threatened by death due to COVID-19 to continue to take preventative measures?
  • [18:47] From a sustainability and psychological perspective, how do you make climate change and its health effects more imminent to the public?
  • [22:51] Everything seems to be bad for you now, so at what point do you stop worrying?
  • [24:37] Have we adopted other behaviors during the COVID pandemic that have made similar impacts on slowing climate change?
  • [26:27] Do you think that the grasp that people have of climate change as being a huge issue that they can’t really make a difference in differs from COVID, where people can just wear a mask and know they’re protecting themselves and others? Is income disparity part of this distinction?
  • [29:15] Based on your background as a social psychologist and the research that you have done around COVID-19, how have social relationships been influenced?
  • [33:15] On a psychological level, what would make people change their mindset about the use of cars or planes (environmental behaviors), even if it’s something that’s very deeply rooted in society?