Why Social Distancing taken for granted?

    Social Distancing

    What’s going on with so many people still going out for their regular chores, ignoring the phenomena of self-isolation and social-distancing; they are like anti-social distancing.

    Don’t worry; we are not going to discuss the politics behind not practicing social distancing, instead look at what experts have to say behind the most puzzling human behavior and related mysteries.

    It’s been several weeks since people in the world, especially here in Pakistan, have been actively urging to practice social distancing to slow the coronavirus spread. 

    Since then, only a few of us have been staying home and avoiding social gatherings, but if you’ve been following the news lately, you will see a large number of people not practicing any of the SOPs, roaming around as nothing has happened, or maybe they think they are more potent than coronavirus.

    Visit any of the markets in Karachi, Lahore, or Islamabad; you will get to know how boldly we are taking the SOPs for granted. 

    Knowing that COVID-19 is a deadly infectious disease, and the transmission rate fortifies in public settings; you, being the social-distancer, might be wondering why some people congregating with friends, blowing off stay-at-home orders, buying things openly, saying NO to face masks, and whatnot, as if there’s no pandemic. 

    Karla Ivankovich, Ph.D., a clinical counselor, said, “It’s difficult not to resent that, especially given that many individuals are infected with COVID-19 and don’t display symptoms, which makes the disease quite easy to spread unknowingly.”

    Listen to experts, all the reasons people might not be social distancing or sheltering in place.

    Mixed messages 

    When a new behavior erupts in a society, people are more inclined to practice it if it’s modeled for them in a way they like to perceive. The social distancing problem is the cohesion across the politicians and governments – provincial and the federal – not practicing the given SOPs and don’t precisely how to act.

    As Jeffrey Cohen, Psy D, a clinical psychologist, says, “Social learning theory means that we do what we see. People change behavior when they understand why to, how to change behavior, and when they see other people modeling the changed behavior. Mixed messaging around social distancing from people in authority decreases the probability that people will practice it.”

    Sadly, we are not being taught/shown that way, coupled with varying guidelines that vary from location to location, confusing, and less likely for them to practice social distancing. Cohen also noted that authority figures who do not practice social distancing also “decrease the probability of people following social distancing.”

    Fear causes denial

    Though similar in symptoms with cold, SARS COV-2 is an entirely new virus sweeping the globe, causing severe symptoms to healthy individuals, while putting older ones and those with chronic conditions at higher risk. 

    Doesn’t sticking to social distancing guidelines make more sense than anything else? 

    Not always. Judy Ho Gavazza, Ph.D., a clinical and forensic neuropsychologist, put it so perfectly, saying, “There will be individuals who want to push against that and almost turn off the message because it is too scary to contemplate.”

    Gavazza shares the similar mentality, saying that it’s a challenge to share terrifying facts with the public, she explains, pointing out to condom ads in the 1990s that “tried to equate not using condoms to immediate contraction of HIV and eventual death, but ended up not changing any consumers’ behaviors, because it was so severe people tuned it out.” 

    It means fear is not always the right way to prompt behavioral changes; sometimes, people feel above that fear.

    Defying guidance makes people control their own lives.

    As a population, do we like if control is taken away from us? We won’t

    Now, think from the time this pandemic begins, it took away the ownership of our lives and is inherently social, causing us to act against nature.

    Going out into the world, running around, throwing a party, especially in an empty city – makes people feel energetic and alive; there’s a thrill hidden behind defying authority and the consequences. Gavazza added, “There are people who are acting like they are invincible because they associate going against the directives as being a hero or superhuman.”

    By acting against SOPs, they roll the dice, moving as if they are above it all, and nothing can happen to them. It is establishing some control.

    Lack of personal connection

    Experience is the only brutal teacher. If you know someone who’s died out of COVID-19, or if you are close to someone facing the virus-like, front line workers, other essential workers, you’re more likely to adhere to the given SOPs. In contrast, others might consider them useless and may not grasp the need. 

    Existential crises are more than the virus.

    Some people, especially those who are poor, who are supposed to go out daily for a living, are less likely to feel fear than those immunocompromised or have an underlying condition.

    Gavazza says, she shared a thought process, “Some may be throwing caution to the wind because they’ve already decided they might die from this anyway, so why not live life to the fullest right now?”

    Gavazza divides the population into different categories – some are known as the catastrophic thinkers, those vulnerable populations that believe they will die from this. Others want to go out with a bang, considering this pandemic a counterintuitive, making the most of what they believe are their rest of the days.

    There’s a justified reason for not social distancing.

    Let’s face it: Social distancing is really hard on us, both physically and mentally and emotionally. Because of this, those defying orders are justified, to an extent. 

    Cohen points to research from Stanford that people between the ages of 18 to 31 are ignoring the social distancing guidelines. Not surprisingly, this is the same group that is least likely to get severely affected by COVID-19 but could spread the virus as an asymptomatic carrier.

    This research also suggests that some people are less interested in practicing social distancing. They believe that precautions like hand washing, sanitizing, or disinfecting are enough to keep them safe from the virus.


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