The Psychology of Foolishness during a Pandemic

Recklessness in times of crisis

The number of Corona infections is rising, and it’s partly related to psychology. Why are we reckless in times of a crisis?

danger vs risk

Chapters:

Risk vs Danger - are they the same?
Why security increases our risk
Faster, harder, louder (personal story)
Why we take unnecessary risks
Recklessness in times of Corona

Risk vs Danger - are they the same?

We use the terms danger and risk synonymously, and that’s confusing as they are different things. For instance, a lion is a danger. Approaching the lion is a risk that increases the closer we get. It’s less of a risk to approach a lion in a cage - but that doesn’t decrease the danger of the lion.

So we can control risk, but not absolutely.

How we perceive risk has to do with our perspective. That leads to under- or overestimating risks and different assessments. Our culture and social environment also play a part in forming our fears. For instance, someone who is living in a war zone has other fears than someone who lives in a peaceful country. The risk assessment for something simple, such as leaving your house and crossing the street is different.

Different assessments of risks lead to different behavior and actions

Why security increases our risk

People love security. They long for the one form of security that doesn’t exist: absolute security. The paradoxical is that we stop being careful when we get used to feeling secure. Our life becomes more dangerous when we feel secure.

That’s when we get reckless and take unnecessary risks. We look for kicks and something that makes us feel alive.

Organized life, job, chores, responsibilities. Complying to please and avoid trouble. Routine. Same ole routine.

Since ancient times, people did things that are a little harmful. We do things knowing they’re not good for us. We go to bed too late, drink too much, eat junk food until we’re diabetic and don’t stop eating sugar once we are… some people love extreme sports and others attend super spreader events without a mask.

Aurorasa Sima Quote: Security isn't avoiding all risks. Security is navigating through them.

Faster, harder, louder

Maybe you can relate: When I was 20 or even 30, I knew what death is on a conceptual level. Meaning I knew that people die, but I didn’t really understand it. Whether it was speeding on the highway or ignoring well-meant advice: I felt immortal. Or that this disease and that misfortune could not happen to me.

For instance, I refused to wear a seat belt and (in Germany where on some sections of highways there’s no speed limit (YES!)) I thought nothing bad could happen to me. When one day a car hit me from the side so severely that the door and cabin were “on” me, I crashed into the windshield so hard it cracked. Some of my hair got stuck in the cracks. The Alfa Romeo Giulia was a write-off and I? I had a small bruise and a tiny scratch on the forehead.

We had a saying, back in German, that drunk people and children have an angel watching over them.

That’s total nonsense. So are other stupid sayings such as "a plane could crash on my head."

Does that mean we are inconsiderate, selfish people? Why are we doing things we know are risky or not good for us?

Several factors play into this:

Why we take unnecessary risks

Blending things out is critical to our survival

Danger and risks are surrounding us. If we'd constantly look at every risk and assumed everything bad could happen to us, we would become depressive and paralyzed by fear.

You probably know a few people yourself who achieve little because they fear risks and consider every potential problem and worst-case-scenario in their decision-making process and action plans. In our Project Empathy Training, we refer to them as "Doublecheckers."

As always, moderation is key. A little paranoia aids us in achieving our goals, while too much of it hinders us and can even render us unlivable.

Our brain craves quick rewards

The brain reward system (BRA) is a group of neural structures responsible for positive emotions such as joy, euphoria, ecstasy, associative learning, and our desire and craving for quick rewards.

The brain releases dopamine, especially generously for survival-related things like eating and drinking. Rising the dopamine level is the brain’s way to teach us a behaviour was important and we should repeat it.

These ancient instincts don’t get updated and they don’t take into account the amount of chemicals and harmful ingredients and that our calorie requirement has changed since our days as hunter-gatherers.

On a side note: Diet begins in the brain. I’ll add some resources at the end of this article and there's a free training HERE.

Belonging and social acceptance

We know we get a pat on the head if we work long hours, even though we know it’s not good for us. For approval, we’re willing to do risky things to stand out. And also the opposite: For fitting in with a group, we might change our behavior. Or we let someone talk us into having a drink when we don’t want to.

Herd instinct

We’re more likely to give up responsibility and let someone (or the herd) lead us when we’re part of a group. We imitate the leader, even if he has a questionable opinion or leads us to doing something we would not normally do. You probably heard “it’s infectious,” and you can read why that is the case in this article: THE POWER OF MIRROR NEURONS.

Recklessness in times of Corona

Most of us are too optimistic regarding disease. We think we'll never get certain diseases and bad things will mostly happen to others. It's a delusion, but a healthy one.

Having confident expectations and a positive outlook keeps us happy and also physically and mentally fit. However, we overestimate the amount of control we have over our destiny. With a pandemic, this can lead to dangerous mistakes.

Failure to assess the risk

"I'll be lucky" is a risky mindset. The problematic part is that people who do not assess the risk correctly, also risk the lives of others.

About 42% of people believe they won't get COVID-19. I read fluctuating numbers regarding the amount of people who find the protective measures over the top. Let's say 30% to be on the safe side.

Personal experience vs statistics

Personal experience beats data every time. We're self-isolating, social distancing, and wearing masks for a long time and some of us did not have a severe COVID-19 case in their tribe/family.

Because many of us have not experienced the danger of the virus personally, we lose the sense of risk. Articles and statistics don't seem to change that.

Difficulty to see our friends as risks

Besides our healthy but delusional optimism regarding disease, our emotional problem is to see our friend, teacher, the person in need as danger.

On an emotional level we feel "That friend I know for so long that doesn't show any symptoms will not infect me."

Leaders send false messages

In some countries with populist leaders, people receive false information. In America, we're still being told (as if a virus would be a matter of politics rather than policies and as if a virus cares if you believe in it or not) Corona isn't as bad as the other party makes you believe.

Remember what we said earlier about the cultural aspect of fears and the herd effect.

Honestly, I am surprised that knowingly risking other people's lives is still legal. It should not be legal.

Have a look at the development of infection rates before and after some of trump's super-spreader events on USA TODAY.

There's a saying, and that's my...

Conclusion

Resources

Positive illusions and well-being revisited: Separating fact from fiction.

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