To wear a mask or not to wear a mask that is the question. Vaccinated? One dose or two? Which vaccine did you have, again? Indoors, outdoors, in a crowd, alone? On a plane? In a train? With a louse in a house?
It’s all so confusing. Literally. And, it was all so predictable.
The CDC and everyone else shoulda known that no one was going to like the shifting ever changing landscape of the #COVID19 pandemic mitigation guidelines. This was going to be true no matter who was in office, but politicizing it all for personal gain only made a bad situation worse. There are several factos that make it so: Our social media-based informaiton system, our emotional decision making, and adjustment reaction.
Living in a social media environment where followers, like, and shares are gained and lost by who said what first: if following the science was the demand under Trump, it has to be the demand now and science says no masks if you’re vaccinated! So, there liberals, suck it. Now that we’ve driven that point home, and the anti-vaxxers feel like they can lie claim to vaxxed — no passports, right? — and spread as much #COVID19 as they can before they die, we’ve got the delta variant spreading like wildfire across the world threatening to undo any gains anyone has made anywhere, and we’ve still got the debate over who should be wearing a mask when and where and under what circumstances.
You know social media where any and every iNfLuEnCeR is trying to improve their brand by predicting any and every outcome and then hyping the ones that were correct like some kind of common Jean Dixon.
It is an unholy, ungodly, seemingly no win situation created by those who seek personal gain — we’re looking at you Ol’ Pussy Grabber and the GQP — in the chaotic contradictory confusion.
Emotional Decision Making: Somatic Marker Hypothesis, Easier Question, and Intensity Matching
As a species we evolved to like black-and-white, cut-and-dry, straight-up or down, hard-and-fast solid reliable information. For the human brain something either is or it is not. There is no gray area. We do not deal with subtlety, nuance, complexity well.
In the instant of encountering a person, place, thing, or idea, we either like it or we don’t whether we consciously realize it or not. As Damasio explains with his somatic marker hypothesis, when we face a decision, we respond by generating an emotion about the success or failure of the choice. Sometimes we’re aware of the emotion, sometimes not, but they influence our decision anyway. In fact, without the somatic marker, we wouldn’t be able to make a decision at all.
Tversky and Kahneman add to this the idea in two ways: (1) we substitute a related yet easier question when faced with a complex difficult one and (2) we match the intensity of the answer to the simpler question to the complex one.
Let’s apply these ideas to whether or not we should wear a mask. Should I wear a mask, today, Sunday 4 July 2021, when I leave the house? Man, that is a complex question given all of the conflicting guidance we’re getting. How can we solve it?
- Look for an easier question, have I been wearing a mask when I left the house in general? See how that works? If you say yes, then you’re more likely to wear a mask today. If no, then not.
- How intense was your feeling about the answer? If you hated it and didn’t wear a mask, then you’re more likely to be adament about not wearing a mask now. If you loved it and wore it religiously, then you’re more likely to be insistent about wearing it today. If you’re ambivalent, well, you’ll find compromises — I’ll wear indoors, but not outdoors.
- The comments: I would love to hear about how you’ve resolved the mask wearing dilemma in the comments, especially if you have any thoughts on the applicability of either Damasio or Tversky and Kahneman in your choice.
What we did in the past often guides how we react now, after all, we lived through whatever happened in the past, so it must’ve worked, right? So, how did we decide on whether we would be mask-wearers or mask-rejecters?
At the very beginning of the #COVID19 pandemic, I wrote about adjustment reaction as a way of explaining how people were reacting to the prospect of the pandemic using adjustment reaction. You know hording toilet paper and hand sanitizer and that kind of stuff. Now that the nature of the pandemic is changing yet again, adjustment reaction helps us understand our behaviors now.
Adjustment reaction is, according to Stella Chess and Mahin Hassibi, a combination of the stress response and compensatory adaptive mechanisms that characterize the behavior of an individual who experiences disruptive life events, usually of an unpleasant nature. I think we can all agree that resuming “normal” life is a disruptive life event and given the life-and-death risks involved, it is an unpleasant one. In other words, how do you know when it is safe to go about without a mask when the science is so contradictory?
When faced with novel life-threatening situations, people react with a predictable pattern, or at least most of us do: (1) We avoid doing activities that we deem dangerous. (2) We seek more information. (3) We envision how we’ll be affected. And (4) we become more cautious. Notice how many of these things are relative: What is deemed dangerous? It varies substantially from person to person. What is information and where do we get it? Some of us are satisfied with the MSM, some with social media, and some with the thoughts that occur to us when experiencing bad gas. You get the idea. It varies. A lot.
Part of the issue when confronted with a novel threatening situation is that there is a lack of information. The steps to securing our safety are ambiguous. People automatically become open to new sources of information and will react to it quickly, thus, so many people began hording 18 months ago.
The same thing is occuring now. It is just not clear whether or not you should be masking. We are hearing contradictory information. Dr. Fauci and the CDC are saying no mask if fully vaccinated. The WHO is saying mask even if fully vaccinated because Delta variant.
Your choice is going to vary depending on your tolerance for risk and danger. However, those of us who discounted the severity of the #COVID19 pandemic during the past year probably are not exhibiting adjustment reaction behaviors at all. It is only those of us who view returning to normal as being a possible new threat who are.
Ambiguity is scary. Contradictory information is confusing. Complexity is overwhelming. People seek reassurance in those situations. One of the biggest problem during the past eighteen months is that we had to keep revising our receommendations based on new scientific findings. We started knowing very little and gradually added information. Dr. Fauci and the CDC made their best recommendations based on what they knew at the time.
As tempting as it was for the CDC and WHO to recommend going maskless when vaccinated, they should’ve known two things: (1) Using that conditional, if you’re vaccinated, then… was only going to confuse things and shoulda used, Once we’re at herd immunity, then… to help mitigate the confusion and still follow the science. And (2) variants were coming. The Delta variant was known for many months. We’d seen how the UK variant swept through nations to become the dominant strain. We can’t relax until we get to herd immunity because variants are going to continue to crop up and they’ll be more contagious, more deadly, and more resistant to the vaccines.
That’s following all of the science including what we know about how people react to ambiguous situations.
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Categories: Behavior Economics