I have been practicing as a psychologist for over 40 years, but in a way I have never encountered, Covid-19 has projected the study of human actions into the public discourse. Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19 to spread, depends on the physical proximity between individuals.
Fighting infection, therefore, involves altering the basic aspects of our everyday routines. We are all asked to minimize the social interaction and intimacy we enjoy so much as social animals. By introducing it into the homes and everyday conversations of people, Covid has done much to advance behavioral science.
Discussions on the fundamentals of enforcement and resistance to Covid have become prevalent in various radio and television news reports, magazine posts, and newspaper papers.
The most evident is the intense debate about the degree of our psychological endurance, if we can adjust our actions to tough times, if we can give up things that we love, and for how long, if so. But if some of the discussion was about the general nature of human psychology, the social systemic determinants of conduct were also addressed – topics such as our general relationship with authority, the role of regulation and punishment in maintaining compliance, the value of trust and trust, how that trust is achieved, and perhaps more importantly, how it is compromised (e.g. The things in the practice room became the talk of the town. Covid has shown the relevance of social science to a cynical public and a dismissive government more successfully than years of lobbying in just a few months. Psychologists also refer to the “fundamental attribution error”: a propensity to explain the actions of individuals in terms of their individual features.
For example, it is believed that it is not motivated to do so by individuals who do not adhere to Covid restrictions.
It follows that they are guilty of their acts and deserve punishment (a line of reasoning often pursued by the government) for their violations. The problem with this is that it ignores the fact that conduct is limited by social and material variables as well as by psychological will. It has been reported that just 4 percent of people from the most disadvantaged wards showed up during the recent mass testing in Liverpool. This is due to the fact that 80 percent of self-isolation payment demands have been rejected. Literally, poorer individuals could not afford to learn that they were sick. The simple solution is not to blame them or threaten them with fines, but to give them the help they need to do what they need. It was painfully clear during the pandemic that psychologizing actions is incorrect – and one of my responsibilities as a psychologist was to point out when misguided the use of psychological theories.
It was also obvious why conduct was psychologized: transferring the blame for the pandemic from the failures of the government to provide help for the psychological vulnerability of the population.
In other words, the so-called fundamental error of attribution is as much a feature of philosophy as it is of psychology. The past year’s events have also made us reconsider our interpretation of the human topic. The belief that individuals breach the rules of Covid because they do not comply with the psychological “grit” represents a larger view of the human psyche as fundamentally weak and vulnerable to error.
According to this technique, when we are under pressure, we can not manage uncertainty, ambiguity, or probabilities well.
And all this is compounded when we are under pressure: we panic, overreact, and transform a situation into a tragedy—such a scenario would always suit the government, because the government becomes invaluable as a guide to save us from ourselves when the public psyche is so deficient. This explains the success in official circles of the so-called “nudge” approach: it starts from the assumption that people do not know their own minds, that they can not be reasoned with, and that they must therefore be fooled by the intelligent manipulation of the alternatives presented to them.