This first appeared in The Havok Journal on August 11, 2020. How are things today?
Why are we all on edge? It’s more than election-year banter. There is a sharpness in everything posted on Facebook, reported in the news, and even talked about at the dinner table. People of differing opinions moved from points of discussion to personal attacks and decisive body blows.
This makes me think back to one of the classic space movies of all time, “The Right Stuff.” I remember a specific scene in the movie where some of the astronaut candidates, including Gordon Cooper, were placed in an isolation chamber and observed. At one point, the experimenters flipped a switch and introduced loud alarms and flashing red lights. One of the men in the room with Cooper freaked out while Gordon Cooper pretended to sleep.
The scene demonstrates an important point, we all handle isolation differently. The movie is historical fiction, but NASA’s study on social isolation goes on today as NASA announced it is looking for candidates for an 8-month isolation study. Why does NASA carry on these studies? Because the majority of people are social. We need to connect, we need human touch and interaction, and even social distancing puts our minds on the defensive nature. When we distance ourselves and notice people keeping their distance, it gives many people a sense of rejection.
In an article published in Science Daily, about the effects of exclusion on the human psyche, the author says the following,” Again and again research has found that strong, harmful reactions are possible even when ostracized by a stranger or for a short amount of time.” Let’s think about every time we distance ourselves in the grocery store, at Walmart, in a line ordering food. I watch when people slide by other people or space themselves in a line. Lord help us if someone sneezes. Even with a mask on, everyone moves and looks in horror as they ostracize the sneezer.
Right now, we push ourselves away from each other. It keeps on edge. It keeps us in a state of alarm. Then someone pulls the lever and we all react. In an article published on the American Psychological Association, almost 50% of adults feel they are sometimes or always alone, and they reported that they sometimes or always feel their relationships are not meaningful and that they feel isolated. This isolation leads to increased drinking, increased alcohol use. The effects go further since isolation can create more anxiety and hinder our coping mechanisms. Combine isolation with media overload and our current inability to assess risk, you get those that live in fear, those the just say screw it and those that rebel.
It’s not all about isolation. Our ability to produce media creates a problem where we can’t even ingest content before an opposing opinion or new research appears. Our news hype cycle creates a lot of noise and a lot of speculation. Here are some examples of how we are overloaded.
-Some reports tell us that a vaccine within sight. Other reports are telling us not to get too excited about vaccines, and they are being oversold.
-The FDA published an article in March, “There is no added health benefit to the general American public to wear a respiratory protective device (such as an N95 respirator). Masks only help prevent the spread unless they are N95.
– The CDC recommends that 6 ft is the appropriate safe distance for social distancing. Other sources say the virus can travel 27 feet when someone sneezes. The media has a slew of contradictory information thrown in our faces about COVID-19 creating a lot of noise to isolate to figure out what is a fact, what was fact, and what is just plain bull. Thinking back to NASA astronauts, this is like turning on alarms and buttons randomly to prevent the astronaut from making an informed decision quickly.
For the majority of people out there, we can find multiple articles to support most sides of an argument because the media continuously feeds us fear porn during a 24-hour news cycle that maintains hype and tension leaving people confused and defensive. In the end, our anxiety levels are raised, many people become angry, and the push emotion to the forefront of decision making.
Emotion Affects Risk Taking
In a research article by Petko Kusev, he outlines that we tend to make less risky behaviors when we associate behavior with past negative events. Kusev states, “Negative affective states were shown to predispose individuals toward remembering negative past events (Bower, 1981) as well as overestimating the chances of a negative event in the future (Johnson and Tversky, 1983). ” Wait a second, my emotions play a role in how I perceive risk? Yes, multiple studies show that we take emotion into account in risk-taking, from sadness to happiness or anger.
If a person associates a current event with a past recollection of negative feelings of sadness or loneliness, they will be less likely to take that risk in the future. Yes, Emotion plays a factor in how we perceive risk, even in how we may take riskier behavior Further in the paper Kusev shows that anger can drive higher risk-taking,” based on Lerner and Keltner’s (2000, 2001) results, induced fear was associated with pessimistic judgments of future events and risk-averse choices, whereas induced anger was associated with more optimistic judgments and a more risk-seeking behavioral pattern.” Did you ever do something because your parents told you not to?
Thinking about current events, the combination of media coverage about police interactions with people of color and COVID is a perfect storm to drive anger and promote riskier behavior, such as rioting or even the way we respond to each other social on Facebook. People with their opinions one way or the other are angry, and they are more likely to display riskier posts or take riskier actions.
So what can we do?
Here are a few things we can do to make sure we aren’t falling into the emotion loop.
Take a step back. If the barrage of media is too much, turn it off. Most likely it will change tomorrow.
Make some observations backed by numbers. Orient yourself to what those numbers mean. Many people quote the total number of deaths in the US or worldwide from Corona without a perspective of other pandemics or without looking at mortality rates. Decide what the data means. For instance, are cloth masks effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19 to others? There is evidence that cloth masks and other masks are effective in preventing the spread of the virus.
Break away from the emotion of what’s going on and realize your emotions, the media’s feed of unfiltered data, and your ability to handle isolation affect how you perceive raw unfiltered data. If you can’t, hop off the internet for a while, stop watching the firehose of news, and take a break from the barrage of data hitting you until you’re ready to start filtering facts from the opinions. At the moment, there are a lot of opinions, a lot of people that think they’re experts, and there are the few that are reducing the noise, adjusting their view and acting on the information.
Finally, if you need a break. Get out. Get some exercise. If you’re a shelter till you die, person, then figure out how to get some exercise in your house to relieve some of the anxiety experienced from the isolation we’re all experiencing and the information overload.
Matt Trevathan is a Director of Product Management for a leading mobile platform enablement company. He has traveled extensively in the United States and overseas for business and travel. His travels include India, Mexico, Europe and Japan where he was an active blogger immediately following the Kaimashi quake. Matt enjoys spending time outdoors and capturing the world through the lens of his Nikon D90. Matt enjoys researching the political, economic and historical influences of the places he visits in the world, and he commonly blogs about these experiences. Matt received a Bachelor in Computer Science at Mercer University, and is a noted speaker on innovation, holding over 150 patents. Matt’s remaining time is spent with his family going from soccer game to soccer game on the weekends.