Psychology can help us navigate the post-containment economy – Quartz


The war against the novel coronavirus may be far from over, but stay-at-home orders are being lifted around the world.

Until now, those of us who could afford to have stayed for the most part have stayed at home. With many offices, stores and parks closed, it was not a difficult decision to make. But as countries slowly reopen, we will all have to make individual choices. Are we comfortable going to the office or taking public transportation to get there? Are we going to visit friends, and if so, should we be wearing masks? Can our children go to games?

Such decisions collectively have enormous implications for the economy. So how are we going to make them? Psychologists have ideas.

Humans are naturally averse to risk and loss. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman has shown that in situations where the potential penalties outweigh the possible gains, such as meeting friends who may or may not have Covid-19, most people will play it safe.

At the same time, our habits guide our decisions, and they’re hard to change, says Kris De Meyer, a neuroscientist at King’s College London. “This lockdown period has not been long enough to change deep-rooted patterns of behavior,” he told Quartz. “Most people will probably fall back into their old ways. “

There is data to support both theories. Reports from Germany, where some small businesses reopened on April 20, show higher than expected foot traffic. And in China, popular tourist spots have been crowded over a recent long weekend, although things have definitely not returned to normal. In the United States, a CBS News poll showed that only 13% of those polled would return ‘permanently’ to public places if restrictions were lifted, while nearly half said they would not do so until after the end. of the epidemic.

Psychologists also have a possible explanation for this: People are notoriously bad at predicting their own behavior in unfamiliar situations (the “intention-behavior gap”). We might think we will stay indoors even after the blockages are lifted, but that doesn’t mean we will.

The global economy is never more than a reflection of our collective choices: buy things, take out loans, start or close a business. Now more than ever, navigation requires an understanding of the complicated psychology behind such decisions.

This essay was originally published in the weekend edition of the Quartz Daily Brief newsletter. Register here.

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