Updated: Jun 3, 2020
Lockdown and Distancing
Importance of physical distancing in a pandemic cannot be stressed enough, yet the act itself is very much against the basic nature of humans, resulting in a complex set of problems. For starters, it is relatively more difficult to obey rules imposed by others versus our own. This gets more challenging when new rules interfere with our personal space - likes of physical distancing and economic goals given we are social creatures engaged in continuous economic activity.
Luckily, having been social creatures, we have social concerns to a good degree. The initial adherence to distancing seems to have much of its roots in other-regarding preferences and coordinated behaviors as predicted compared to enforcement.
It is important to note that different stata of practicing citizens are trading off different needs - economic & psychological. While there are many for whom basic necessities in a lockdown is a prime concern - housing and groceries - there also people for whom physical distancing itself might be affecting more than other things in the pandemic.
Otherwise everyday activities like a trip to the grocery store now precede deliberative decision making taking into consideration the risks and implications. This quickly adds up to exhaustion with restrictions surrounding daily activities.
Individuals soon find themselves continuously coping with a range of emotions while touch starvation and idleness aversion start kicking in. These negative emotions only get worse with an increasing time period of lockdown leading to misjudgements and risk taking behaviors. Data shows that people started moving more often and traveled longer distances after one month of lockdown (US).
What can be improved?
Make it easy
Deploy distancing intervention strategies that are easy to follow. Best designs reduce the need for deliberation of choices and methods - set of actions required on the part of facility (where people frequent) managers. This includes enabling choices of individuals that make it easy for people around them to keep distance. It should also be noted that interventions like graphical markers are effective in structured spaces like stores and banks but not in unstructured spaces like parks.
Help people cope with uncertainty
Along with other adherence related communications and interventions at place, parallely help people become more patient and feel better during uncertainties. Being transparent in communication about plans and managing expectations regarding the time period of lockdown and expected extensions is a starting point. Providing assurances and strong motivation to see through the difficult times can help people deal with negative emotions.
One of the major reasons for fatigue with physical distance is loss of connectedness. Our basic psychological makeup seeks connection and lockdowns leaves people coping with it. Government can facilitate a healthy coping mechanism by providing channels of communication that encourage activities. Technology has been quick to catch up to fill this gap with innovative solutions but it leaves behind the technologically unsavvy population.
Nonconscious motivations to action in many cases turn out to be more powerful and sustainable than direct communication. Authorities should abstain from highlighting accounts of undesirable behaviors (selfish). Though it is framed as undesirable, the huge risk here is that the proof of non-adherence carries a strong underlying message - “look at all the people who are doing it”. Moreover, we are hardwired to look for proof that our actions are making a difference. Feedback and validation become crucial in sustaining good practices amidst noise and uncertainty.
Who would this be most useful for?
Governments and Policy makers
Local authorities Media