Psychology – Not science or politics
Dr Joshua Liao explains that under the pressure of time and uncertainty, people rarely act on the basis of logic alone. Instead, humans tend to make choices in these situations using a set of mental shortcuts.
Most states have reached a turning point, embarking on the path of returning their economies to normalcy. Using a phased approach, officials have sanctioned the reopening of some business lines and expressed their intention that other industries follow suit if infection rates remain stable or decline over time. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently affirmed this approach by outlining detailed guidelines on data criteria and thresholds for “reopening America” in three phases.
Recovery requires reliable data and close monitoring of public health data. But human behavior is rarely driven by data alone. Ultimately, it will be the psychology behind Americans’ behaviors that will dictate how the country bounces back.
Human behavior has already had a huge impact on the healthcare sector. Fears of get the virus in medical facilities have reduced the use of emergency rooms, hospitals and clinics. I have treated patients in Washington state, one of the pandemic’s earliest epicenters, where hallways were strangely empty in anticipation of planned outbreaks, and several patients admitted for reasons unrelated to Covid have requested discharge early to avoid exposure to the virus. For hospitals and practices, the exit from this situation is far from certain. Many lay off or fire employees, while others may be beyond registration even with federal financial aid efforts.
Behavioral dynamics are also at play on a larger scale. Widespread concerns over the virus may explain why residents of several states cut back on work, expenses and travel long before their state officials issued formal stay-at-home orders. It is also the reason why more than half of Americans would probably not or certainly not engage in activities such as flying in planes or going to the movies, even if the restrictions were lifted on the advice of public health officials.
That said, the psychology behind American behavior promises to be a lot more complex than just fear. People make decisions by weighing social and economic obligations, possibly explaining why – in contrast to their reluctance to engage in leisure activities – Americans seem more willing attend weddings and funerals if public health officials lift restrictions. In addition, it is also likely that economic hardships have prompted some to protest and challenge stay-at-home orders, although this is likely to personal and public health.
While varied, these answers are not surprising to those of us who study human behavior. Under the pressure of time and uncertainty, people seldom act on the basis of logic alone. Instead, humans tend to make choices in these situations using a set of mental shortcuts (called “heuristics” in behavioral and decision science) that are learned from past experiences. We use these cognitive strategies to make decisions quickly while minimizing stress.
This cognitive approach generally works well for humans, especially in uncertain situations: choosing to drive or take the train to a business conference; decide whether or not to invest in a time-limited opportunity; or determine a fair wage to negotiate with a potential employer. Individuals are now faced with a new uncertain situation: choosing activities in the gradual recovery of a global pandemic. Previous experience, memory, and basic mental rules can help people make good decisions.
But these trends can also work against us. News of a recent train accident may cause a person to travel to the conference by car rather than by train, despite the relative safety of trains and the known risks of car travel. Positive experiences of investing in a particular industry may prompt a person to rush into another seemingly similar, but more risky, investment. Too much anchoring on an initial salary goal can hurt the productivity of a negotiation and even hurt a person’s job prospects.
And in a global pandemic, distorted perceptions about the risk of infection can steer Americans – leaders, business owners, employees, and the public – from good decisions and behaviors. For leaders, this determines how they pace reopening and communicate information to voters. For business owners and employees, this determines how they implement policies that maintain productivity and safety in the workplace. For all of us, this determines which activities can lead to under-engagement (eg, avoidance even after the restrictions are lifted) or over-commitment (eg, premature rush to restricted activities).
It’s no secret that humans can make bad decisions. But it’s important to pay attention to the common heuristics that drive us to do this – often in very predictable ways. As states prepare to reopen, this recognition could make the difference between a data-driven strategy (hoping that appropriate behavior follows) and a strategy that anticipates and intervenes on faulty behavioral responses alongside monitoring of faulty behavior. data. What will happen in the months and years to come may very well depend on what prevails.