In recent weeks, we have seen an increase in morbidity, an unprecedented government response to COVID-19, and radical changes in the daily lives of most of the world’s inhabitants.
Many of us have already adapted to home isolation. That being said, we still see footage of busy streets, beaches and shops on the networks.
Given that the media is overwhelmed with information about the speed of the spread of the virus and news of what is happening is available to everyone 24/7, it seems impossible that people do not know that they should stay at home. So why do some seem to deliberately disregard guidelines and ignore prohibitions?
In 2009, physician and science promoter Daniel Ofri wrote about a phenomenon she observed in her patients. She discovered that in addition to a viral infection during epidemics, we are threatened by another infection (psychological) – distrust and suspicion.
Just as there are patterns (specific patterns) of disease, there are patterns of emotional response associated with new ailments. These diseases, like COVID-19, can lurk asymptomatically in everyone we meet, capture our imaginations and evoke intense fear and insecurity.
And fearful and insecure people, according to psychologist Julia Shaw, often do two things:
- assume the worst in others;
- acting irrationally.
Julia Shaw suggests discussing both in more detail.
Fundamental attribution error and COVID-19
Without knowing what people are thinking, we draw conclusions by looking at their behavior. In most cases, this means that we simply attribute some intentions, emotions or knowledge to them and build our guesses on this. In the current pandemic, it is exactly the same: we automatically make judgments about those who violate isolation.
As a rule, we are sure that they ignore the rules on purpose. This phenomenon in social psychology is called “fundamental attribution error.” Its essence is that we tend to explain the actions of other people by their personal characteristics (he does it out of spite), and our own behavior – by external circumstances (I have important reasons).
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In reality, a person who is not able to stay at home (this is not about those who have to go to work) does not violate the regime on purpose, he has no bad intentions. But we automatically come to such a conclusion in a situation of danger, which is justified from an evolutionary point of view: our brain is programmed to err in the direction of a solution that guarantees greater security.
In the face of danger, we become more suspicious, because whoever trusts a sick person takes risks.
Why we act irrationally during a pandemic
How then to explain the behavior of those who do not observe social distance? According to Julia Shaw, the reasons may be as follows:
They cannot fully comprehend what is happening. It feels like we are in a dystopian movie and not in real life. The inability to comprehend and analyze events can lead to their complete ignorance or denial of scale and reality.
They wishful thinking. In the digital age, it’s easy to find an article that tells you what you want to hear, and to find arguments that minimize or catastrophize the severity of the situation.
They do not believe in the severity of the next crisis. Our news feeds have long been filled with sensational stories. But if we are constantly told about world crises, then the news of another catastrophe we no longer take seriously, even when we are convinced that this time everything is true.
They are confused. They don’t know how to behave. What we did yesterday, following the instructions of governments, today can be considered a mistake. This leads to a learned helplessness where we simply give up trying to figure out how to behave and follow our intuition instead.
But cognitive-behavioral psychologist and psychotherapist Seth Gillihan sees the reasons why a person can refuse self-isolation in the following thinking errors:
We believe that past experience applies to every similar situation. Based on this logic, the COVID-19 crisis cannot be worse than the SARS and H1N1 outbreaks.
But past experience is only useful to the extent that it matches reality, the generalization ignores the unique features of this coronavirus – for example, the ease of infection and the ability of people to spread it without visible symptoms.
Many of us downplay the severity of the crisis, arguing that the coronavirus is very similar to the flu, that it is mostly caught by the elderly, or that “80% of people have mild symptoms.” Not everyone who gets the coronavirus ends up on mechanical ventilation, right. But this is not a reason to endanger the most vulnerable.
3. The conviction that everything is possible
Finally, the belief that “I have the right to do what I want to do” can also lead to a person abandoning self-isolation. He may think that giving up self-isolation – how to remove a seat belt in a car – is a personal choice that only affects him. But in fact, he “removes the belt” not only from himself, but also from his grandparents.
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If any of these “thinking mistakes” are close to you, try to analyze it from the point of view of logic. What evidence supports your belief? Is there something you might have missed or ignored? Let the truth guide you.
The safest way to behave during the COVID-19 epidemic is to heed the advice of epidemiological experts. They have a lot more knowledge and data than we hope to gain by trying to find answers on our own.
Another’s example has a huge impact on our actions.
Each of us unconsciously imitates the behavior of other people, “becomes infected” by them. According to Christie Duan and her colleagues, co-authors of the book “Psychiatry of Pandemics” (2019), such “behavior contamination” is similar to a real contamination during an epidemic.
Just as one infected person is likely to transmit the virus to two or three others, so a person who withdraws from social distance can affect two or three, and by looking at him, they will do the same.
But the opposite is also true: following the recommendations of epidemiologists is also “contagious”. If we stay at home, then, most likely, we will “infect” another 2-3 people with our example. This is how each of us can make a difference: the best we can do to convince others to stay home is to set an example.
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