Regular devotees of this blog and my ramblings will know my interest, fascination, obsession (??) with human behaviour. It has intrigued and baffled me in equal measure since I was a student ( a very long time ago now) if not before.
However, like so many other issues during ‘Covid-19’, the behaviour and actings of individuals, both acting alone and as part of a crowd (sometimes a very big crowd) has been as gripping and engrossing as it has been distressing.
As we all returned to work in early January, bleary-eyed from too many late nights over the festive period, we could never (never ever ever) have foreseen what lay ahead some 11 weeks later. ‘Instructed’ by government to ‘stay at home’ and threatened with fines for non-compliance. Edicts ‘telling’ us what we could and could not do. Where we could and could not go and with whom and for what purpose. Not since 1939-45 had the country ever seen anything like it and the overwhelming majority that remember those dark days of World War 2 sadly were no longer with us. So this was alien to nearly all of us.
The question for those of us fascinated by the entire range of social sciences interested in human behaviour ( sociology, psychology, anthropology) was to observe the extreme ranges of responses to those ‘orders’. Some, many, most (?) capitulated and yielded. I suspect that most worked on the basis of the sooner we comply, the sooner this will all be over. I know that was my mantra.
But it evidently was not for all. The range of non-compliance has been startling from the young teenage rockets who think nothing ( and certainly no virus) will stop them from their regular thrice-weekly sesh with Mad Dog to , well the PM’s right hand man. So, some people have responded very differently to new rules on lockdown and social distancing. Some seem appalled. Other reassured. So, what might account for these differences?
It’s sometimes very easy to think, assume even, that information such as what the governments were issuing in March would be treated by us all, equally and in equal measure. But that is not how information, any information really, is received by our brains.
What we do is listen to , adapt and follow any information that we believe is relevant to us and then we implement that and use it to form an interpretation as to what is happening in that particular situation. This ‘cognitive’ approach is really quite fascinating. I have watched, aghast, at some of our American friends who have barely acknowledged the presence of ‘coronavirus’ not just because of their ‘leader’ but because their brains have told them that this is not an issue to be concerned about. This will not impact on their health; it will not, cannot, kill them ,potentially, if contracted. It might actually be cured if they ingest bleach. No it is nothing more than an inconvenience and any restrictions upon our daily lives and rituals have been interpreted by some ( and not now just by Americans) as nothing more than a gross breach of their civil liberties and human rights. Something that is keeping them off their work, their pastimes, their various indulgences.
Contrast that, wildly, with others who have not, would not, leave their home – and for over three months – for fear of catching a ‘killer disease’. Yet both these two sets of people are referring to the same condition. The fascination for me is the differing interpretations. Both sets of individuals are being told a little story by their brains and an interpretation leads to a plan of action. For some a ‘devil may care’ attitude and others ‘hell and damnation’. Remarkable.
What is really happening is a fairly extraordinary system of information processing based on our personalities as much as anything else. For the shy introvert who does not excel or even relish the prospect of company, being instructed to stay at home will probably be interpreted as a sense of relief. There are plenty since March who have gone on record to confirm they have ‘enjoyed’ lockdown. They have enjoyed not seeing or having to mix with others. It almost legitimises, in their eyes, the sense of ‘self-isolation’ which they endure day-to-day anyway, long before the pandemic struck. Paradoxically, there is the extrovert. The ‘people person’. They need social contact and interaction; the tacticity of a hug; that pint in the local to mingle as much as to drink. Social restrictions are, therefore, a major trial for them and they will not be easily fobbed off with the prospect of a ‘Zoom’ or a ‘virtual quiz night’.
Both these sets of people are interpreting the same ‘event’ but the end result is markedly different.
Evan applying that theory, it is difficult to justify the scenes at beaches across the country last week and at Bornemouth,pictured above. That goes way beyond the diference between an introvert and an extrovert. Mass gatherings (one estimate at Bournemouth put the figure at an eye watering half a million people) are very disturbing and demonstrate the ‘lemming theory’ on the basis of ‘herd behaviour’. Watching hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands follow each other even where it inevitably leads to danger is, again, intriguing. It is also reckless and irresponsible. And extremely selfish. But then we know, for example, that smokers are starkly aware of the (relatively) high chances of lung cancer and other ancillary chest diseases but still continue to puff away. And there lies another answer. If ‘plenty’ are ‘doing it’, it must be ok and also, in terms of the process of information processing, they do not see their behaviour as necessarily malevolent and often not even criminal. But of course it is and arguably both.
It is an absorbing debate. The main issue, however, applied to the pandemic is the damage that the non-compliant are doing, potentially, to the compliant. But that is a debate I shall withhold and reserve for another day.
Humans – engrossing creatures.