A lot of people have got a lot to say about people and their behaviour during the COVID-19 crisis. Some are experts and commentators, and some are not but the wide views and opinions are nothing short of fascinating. Never before has human behaviour come under such a huge spotlight. Here are some of the articles and debates that have got me thinking during this crisis.
In this article by The Guardian, the important question 'What makes a hero?' is asked. According to a popular meme going around at the moment, intentions matter more than actions. “Your grandparents were called to war,” it says. “You’re being called to sit on the couch.” In a way, sitting around and doing nothing is a new type of heroism, because going out and living life as normal makes you a passive bystander to a global threat. But in ordinary times, the difference between a hero and a bystander is far more clear-cut and so the question asked is what makes some of us the former, and some of us the latter?
Nick Chater, Professor of Behavioural Science, at Warwick Business School, University of Warwick has written an interesting piece for The Conversation about psychological biases causing politicians to make bad choices. In this article, Nick talks about the power of precedent. He talks about how it is our minds tackle the future by referring to the past and the question of what to think or do is mostly answered by asking: what do I (or other people like me) normally think and do? It is the case that we don’t like to be disturbed from our comfortable status quo, so we tend to ignore, downplay or simply fail to collect information that might conflict with this picture. As the crisis gets going, we search for analogies from past experience of other similar-looking crises.
In this futures article by the BBC, it is argued that it is the threat of contagion that will twist our psychological responses to ordinary interactions, leading us to behave in unexpected ways.
We are already aware that the constant bombardment of messages and news about Coronavirus has led, or could lead to heightened anxiety, with immediate effects on our mental health. But it is the constant feeling of threat that may also be having other, more insidious, effects on our psychology. Apparently, due to some deeply evolved responses to disease, fears of contagion lead us to become more conformist and tribalistic, and less accepting of eccentricity. Our moral judgements become harsher and our social attitudes more conservative when considering issues such as immigration or sexual freedom and equality. Daily reminders of disease may even sway our political affiliations. The recent reports of increased xenophobia and racism may already be the first sign of this according to the BBC, but if the predictions of the scientific research are correct, they may reflect much deeper social and psychological shifts.
Theconversation.com published an interesting piece this week which paints a better picture than the BBC article above. They say that despite news reports of hoarding, and panic-buying, research shows that natural disasters, like this coronavirus pandemic, can actually bring out the best in people - read our top ten positive news stories which prove this point. The article goes on to say that although times of significant threat or crisis can cause post-traumatic stress, research shows that so-called “adversarial growth” is just as common as a response. This is our capacity to not only overcome a crisis but to actually grow stronger, wiser and more resilient. So when people experience adversity – such as life-changing illness or loss – research shows their relationship with the world changes. Often, adversity may help us experience a new appreciation of life, improve our relationships with others, and help us gain personal strength. In other words, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. We've all heard that expression but we probably didn't understand the science behind it.
Nudge, nudge: how psychology is being used in coronavirus fight
Matt Choley of The Times describes the influence behavioural insights and behavioural scientists currently have inside Government and how they are being called upon to help with this crisis. In this piece, he talks about the infamous 'nudge unit' and their influence on the decision making process.