Dr. Sanna Balsari-Palsule is not your average, stuffy Ph.D. Having earned her doctorate in Social Psychology at the University of Cambridge at the age of 25, she worked briefly as a model in Mumbai. Interestingly, she doesn’t see a dichotomy between modelling and being a behavioural scientist. “Modelling gave me a unique opportunity to understand the industry from within, where image is paramount, and as a psychologist I was picking up real-time data on so many of the issues that are endemic to this industry,” Dr. Sanna says. Now, she advises clients in the public and private sector on how to create behavioural change for good. Her work revolves around using psychological principles to understand and shape behaviour that can influences the choices we make in our daily lives.
Having lived in several countries across the world including Denmark, USA, Australia, UK and now, India, Dr. Sanna’s experiences are eclectic and varied. She has been featured in BBC Capital, New York Magazine’s The Cut, DNA India, and in Vice UK.
As a speaker for the United Nations Young Changemakers Conclave ‘18, Dr. Sanna sat down with Homegrown to discuss her upcoming talk that focuses on the potential of behavioural science for social good.
Homegrown: What are young people most concerned about when using social media?
Dr. Sanna Balsari-Palsule: “Young people are most concerned about image. The pressure to curate and edit the way we present ourselves on social media is immense. Not only is it affecting mental health and body dissatisfaction, that the facts show are highest in women than ever before, but we’re also constantly bombarded with images of idealised body types... The problem is that this [culture] is breeding a sense of social comparison and our brains are searching for a sense of validation and approval in the forms of likes and followers. When we don’t get that, it activates a threat mechanism.”
HG: Have you ever experienced this “threat mechanism”?
SBP: “I think the fascinating thing about the impact of social media is that everyone I know has experienced it. I think we all feel it, no one is protected from it. But, that’s not to say that social media is all doom and gloom— there are wonderful things about it. It’s a way of bringing together online communities and mobilising people… I think the #MeToo movement is a perfect example of this. Social media can make you feel less alone and I think it’s one of the most contradictory things about it.”
HG: So, how can we best tackle negativity on social media?
SBP: “I think there are a number of things we can do. First, from time to time, disengage from the constant stream of information and notifications we receive— whether that’s a ‘digital detox’ or just carving out time where you’re not near your phone. Another way is to engage in self-compassion, which includes 3 parts: first, you need to treat yourself as if you were a loved one; second, remembering that you are part of a collective and other people experience the same things you do; and finally, to be mindful of the present. Another way is to develop a sense of ‘social media literacy,’ which means stepping back and taking a more critical eye of the idealised, enhanced images of social media and recognising that this is just one form of self-presentation, not real life.”
HG: Is there a correlation between social media and procrastination?
SBP: “There is a very strong correlation. There are very few people who can concentrate on a task for more than 15 minutes without feeling an urge to check their phone. So, the problem with social media is that there’s constant background noise that’s always distracting us. Studies have shown that even having your phone face-down on the table still has an impact on their cognitive performance.”
HG: Tell us about a tried and tested way to reduce this distraction.
SBP: “There are ways to wean ourselves off social media. The first is to take small steps. Whenever we want to change behaviour, we have to do it in small incremental stages. This means setting a weekly goal and breaking that down into daily action steps. The second is to reward yourself— when we reward ourselves, we’re more likely to be motivated. If you stay away from your phone for half an hour intervals, reward yourself by looking at a YouTube video.”
This article is a part of the UN Young Changemakers Conclave ‘18, an event held in collaboration with the United Nations Information Centre For India & Bhutan and X-Billion Labs on Oct. 27.