Looking at the Sociology of Perceptions in a Pandemic : a brief article review

In a torrent of articles elevating the science of precautions, or disputing them as unsupported infringements on liberties, emerges this review of research study evidence regarding the how and why of our takes on discussions of negotiating this public crisis.

From “Our Minds Aren’t Equipped for This Kind of Reopening” published in the Atlantic, some key takeaways:

  • “… literature predicts that people will take comfort when a coronavirus fatality is attributed to “underlying conditions”—for instance, a patient’s age or chronic maladies—that they do not share, and they will be tempted by the quick dopamine hit associated with shaming those who fail at social distancing.”
  • “psychophysical numbing” is the “… declining marginal disutility” that people associate with others’ deaths—the feeling that the difference between no deaths and one death is really bad, but the difference between 110,000 and 111,000 deaths is negligible.”
  • We experience multiple distortions of how we view our participation in precautions based on our own cognitive biases.
    • We view our friends as within safe distances but strangers as violating them, despite the opposite sometimes being true.
    • We overestimate our compliance with precautions as more compliant than others.
    • We view people of other races as violating social distancing norms more often than our own.
    • That humans have difficulty comprehending exponents without concluding an answer that serves what they already believe to be true.

An important argument nested within this data, is that we have many cognitive processes that limit our ability to see things objectively, and will even process information biased against what we believe in ways that make it seem to agree with us.

More support and discussion are offered in the article published in The Atlantic by Tess Wilkenson-Ryan, a professor of Law and Psychology at University of Pennsylvania.

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