Friday Faves is our weekly blog series highlighting a few select pieces from the REG team’s reading lists. You can catch up on past Friday Faves on the archive

Why won’t/can’t people social distance?

Anne says: I’ve been struggling to understand people’s behaviour recently. Perhaps our response to COVID19 is shaped by the experience of it. Or perhaps people are just fatigued and need to get out. Is it mixed messages – from governments, different global approaches, health experts, the WHO, their workplace, or their peers and friends? Or is there something else in our psychological makeup that makes some of the strategies we’re supposed to practice, to stay safe and to protect others from the virus just too difficult to sustain?

My frame of reference that’s shaped my perspective: I spent 4 months, March – June, in confinement in Barcelona. Our regulations were far stricter than Phase 4 lockdowns in Melbourne. But then our level of cases and deaths were far higher than are currently being experienced as well. It was a grim, surreal time here. Everyone knows someone who died in a family, or are still struggling with sickness. As a researcher of human behaviour, I’ve been puzzling over what a project to develop an understanding of our current times would look like. We would likely be doing research remotely – via Zoom – but how do we really uncover what’s going on when we’re not directly interacting and observing people in context? So when I came across these 2 articles, I was instantly drawn to their attempts to explain behaviour.

Let’s start with adults – assuming we’re all rational, care about others (at least our family and friends), and wouldn’t want to intentionally harm others by infecting them with a potentially deadly virus – why then, do we find people unable to adhere to the guidelines that are designed to keep us as safe as possible (and supported by medical science – ignoring the political influences for the moment)?

In the Medium article: This is why people refuse to practice social distancing, the author, Francine Mends MD, explains the issue through 5 common errors in logical thinking – or cognitive biases. Cognitive biases are powerful influencers of our behaviour (whether you’re aware of them or not) – to override their influence you need to be conscious of which one is in play and how to get your brain to reframe the context. That is tricky for most of us. However, if public health authorities wanted to get their messages across with more impact, paying attention to these 5 cognitive biases would be a valuable starting point.

Here’s a brief overview of the 5 cognitive biases:

  1. Availability bias
    How we “…make judgments about the chance of events occurring based on the ease of examples that come to mind.”
    We have no experience of this type of event – a pandemic of this nature has not occurred in our lived experiences – so it’s highly unlikely to happen to me now. (Error in judgement).
  2. Normalcy bias
    “…The refusal to plan for, or react to, a disaster which has never happened before” or the ostrich effect.
    They ignore something that’s going to have a major impact or disruption to their lives in an attempt to retain levels of normalcy.
  3. Confirmation bias
    “…they search for and believe data that supports their beliefs while rejecting information that doesn’t support their opinion.”
    This is a common trap for many people and businesses when making everyday decisions – we actively look for evidence to support our decisions, without thinking our decision may be flawed or lacks data. There’s a lot of people and governments actively dismissing data at the moment – I don’t think we need examples to associate with this error in judgement.
  4. Optimism bias
    “… the belief that you’re less likely to suffer from misfortune and more likely to attain success than reality would suggest.”
    Associated with the illusion of invulnerability, the reaction of many young people fall into this category of bias, people believe their chances of infection are low, or they’re not in the vulnerable group, so they probably won’t get it.
  5. Hyperbolic Discounting Bias
    This final bias was one of the most meaningful explanations of current behaviour for me. It’s based on the current moment bias – an immediate reward versus a delayed but more valuable reward. The example given is based on social distancing to save your grandmother’s life – it’s a high-value reward, but it’s abstract and delayed. The author suggests if we can change social distancing (and mask-wearing) strategies to be high-value, immediate rewards we would overcome this powerful bias.

There’s no easy answer to overcoming these 5 cognitive biases, particularly if you’re not aware of them. Then add the factors of stress, lockdowns, job insecurity and personal concerns and it becomes complicated. However, as the author suggests, next time you want to admonish someone for not wearing a mask, or not social distancing, stop for a moment and try to identify which of the cognitive biases may have influenced their behaviours. Only then will we be able to reframe their perspective or attempt to explain an error in their logical thinking. (BTW – a quick warning – they may think they are being logical and you’re not!)

That leads me to the 2nd article – teenagers and their disregard for social distancing and getting together in large groups. Currently in Barcelona, and across many cities in Europe, there is a new surge in cases that are predominantly in the younger demographic under 30 years. It’s summer, they’ve been locked up for months, and it’s time to party – so they do. Why?? Well, hyperbolic discounting bias is one explanation, but the other is outlined in the Wall Street Journal article: Why the teenage brain pushes young people to ignore virus restrictions. 

The focus is on the development of the teenage (defined as 14 – 26 years old) brain and its need for seeking new experiences. This creates a motivation for reward – immediate gratification over future gains (hyperbolic discounting bias) – which frequently results in risky decisions or the thrill of adventure, but it also requires the presence of their peers. A perfect storm for conditions for spreading the virus. The article highlights the negative consequences of teenagers being deprived of these opportunities – the impact on the development of their brain, particularly severe depression.

Lockdowns have already impacted this group and now with school and universities closed, where they are provided guidance and opportunities to engage socially, it’s pushing their need for social interactions into other contexts. Hence, the large group parties on beaches and other public areas. Sadly, the article doesn’t provide any suggestions about how the situation could be managed. So we’re left with an understanding of the issues, but it’s going to take a lot more than that to help reduce the predicament we’re facing.

What both of these articles provide us with is an understanding of the psychological frameworks that are at play and how many people will not be aware of their impact on their decisions. How we can change these on a large scale is really something that public health authorities and government need to work on, together. But – I’m not hopeful consensus will be achieved. That leaves it up to us, as individuals, members of groups and families, to do our best to understand others’ positions, their frame of reference, and try to provide alternative perspectives in an attempt to get everyone working towards a positive outcome.


You can still burn-out while working from home

Jakkii saysThe last time I wrote about burnout was almost a year ago, long before we had even imagined what a pandemic could do to the world we once knew. For so many of us now working from home with its myriad distractions amid the surreality and stress of life in the time of covid, the risk of burnout hasn’t gone away just because we’re no longer in the office. In fact, it’s probably greater, as we see reports of people working longer hours than ever before, all while juggling a variety of personal circumstances from juggling multiple people working from home and managing homeschooling kids to being isolated and lonely for those who live alone.

It’s important we are aware of the signs of burnout, and that we watch out for them in ourselves, our families and our colleagues. After all, we can’t take action to prevent or resolve burnout if we don’t recognise there’s a problem. There have been plenty of articles written about the signs of burnout, which include chronic fatigue, insomnia, impaired concentration, appetite changes and anxiety. However, when we’re working from home rather than commuting and/or travelling for work, the signs of burnout might also look a bit different:

“We can experience a burnout that has less physical symptoms but manifests as more of a mental fuzziness,” Lucy Fuller, psychotherapist, says. Those experiencing burnout at home might feel tired, confused and become forgetful. Other signs include frustration, anger and sadness.

The article then goes on to look at a few ways to help yourself prevent burnout, and a few ways to deal with it if you’re already experiencing it. If you are experiencing burnout, there is some more detailed advice on HelpGuide, and there’s also some excellent advice on looking after your mental health during the pandemic on BeyondBlue.

If you’re not OK, you can reach out and speak to someone. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or text 0477 13 11 14.


Every self-help book ever, boiled down to 11 simple rules

Jakkii says: Don’t have the time – or inclination – to try to read every self-help book ever? Me either. I’ve never actually read a self-help book if I’m being honest, though I’ve certainly read my share of blogs and articles over the years. The well-crafted headline of this one grabbed me immediately, though – what are these 11 simple rules? And really, more importantly – are they of any use?

I won’t leave you hanging, don’t worry – the 11 rules are:

  1. Take one small step.
  2. Change your mental maps.
  3. Struggle is good. Scary is good.
  4. Instant judgement is bad.
  5. Remember the end of your life.
  6. Be playful.
  7. Be useful to others.
  8. Perfectionism = procrastination.
  9. Sleep, exercise, eat, chill out. Repeat.
  10. Write it all down.
  11. You can’t get it all from reading.

Despite having been personally attacked by rule 8, I have to say that, even without bothering to read the accompanying paragraph for each rule, on the surface these (mostly) make sense. Some of them even immediately harken to Anne’s great writing this week on bias and psychological frameworks (e.g. instant judgement is bad).

Now, whether you buy into all of these is a matter of personal opinion – just make sure you’re checking your biases as you read. But I think the article does a pretty good job of delivering on what the headline promises: a boiled-down, simple set of rules by which we might improve ourselves. If you don’t have a ton of time (or interest) in reading book after book, start with this article and see whether you want to read further on any particular ‘rule’.


Around the house

Another productive day in lockdown from r/funny

Jakkii says: This week, some practical tips and some things to learn more about:

Friday Funnies

productivity from r/funny

complaint department. from r/funny

Misinformation Friday Five

COVID-19 Friday Five

Work Friday Five

Tech Friday Five

Social Media Friday Five

Corona Business Insights Podcast

Why is Gen Z struggling: from the financial uncertainty, careers and fragility, to counterintuitive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the ‘digital native’ generation.

As COVID-19 sets out to change the world forever, join Sandra Peter and Kai Riemer as they think about what’s to come in the future of business.


Conclusions from over 30 research projects from across Microsoft that seek to understand the experience for remote workers

COVID-19 financial crisis will leave lasting scars on Gen Z

Our previous discussion on motivation on Corona Business Insights

Our long conversation with Jonathan Haidt on the rise of a generation of social media addicted, anxious ‘Gen Z’ youths and how they enter the workforce

How Gen Z and Millennials spend their time according to BCG

It will be harder for Gen Z to climb the career ladder after a crisis

Young people’s real incomes have fallen since the global financial crisis

Young people will suffer their entire working lives from COVID-19


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