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Why others get upset when you mask

Bookmarked Why Do They *Think* That? by JTO, Ph.D. (essaysyoudidntwanttoread.home.blog)

I’ll just give you a non-comprehensive run-down of various biases (which are basically rules of cognition that become errors when they’re incorrectly applied) and heuristics (which are basically thinking shortcuts or strategies that can lead to thinking errors), focusing on those that can cause people to be more alarmed by risk reduction than by the risk posed by actual threats.

Why people don’t seem to care about the health risks”

  • People don’t like to think about death or disability
  • Death and disability are abstract without personal experience
  • Selection and survivorship biases when they only see healthy people out and about
  • People estimate their own risk based on personal experiences
  • “base-rate fallacy: people are much more swayed by single dramatic events than by large numbers or probability statistics”
  • Optimism Bias = expect they’ll have a good outcome
  • Perceived invulnerability = don’t think bad stuff will happen to them
  • Diffusion of Responsibility –> they can’t directly see or be held responsible for the consequences of their actions (e.g. passing along sickness so people you don’t know die)
  • Just World Thinking = “people get what they deserve” because otherwise would have to admit the world is unfair and random, and can attribute their success to their own choices by blaming what others have done differently than them (e.g. get vaxxed)
  • Fundamental Attribution Error, which leads us to focus on personal vs. situational causes for other people’s behavior and outcomes – though not for our own”

Why do people seem to care so much that YOU care about Covid health risks?

  • Cognitive Dissonance
  • Confirmation Bias
  • Psychological Reactance –> people get mad when they think their freedoms are under attack or they’ll lose control –> trying to reassert control
  • “people personalize the actions of others, inferring that those people mean to have a negative effect on them – for example, thinking that masked people are deliberately trying to make them irate or imply they’re stupid” = hostile attribution bias
  • group norms, conformity, and group consensus
  • group think happens when going along with your group trumps making an informed decision –> group polarization = group beliefs gradually become more radical

“People wish to be seen (by themselves and others) as reasonable. Because of this, when folks try to decide on a “rational” response to an environmental threat, they often look at the array of available risk mitigation options and try to pick a percentage of these that is neither an ‘under-response’ or an ‘over-response.’” “Unfortunately, that’s not the way risk actually works; a threat is what it is, and it isn’t going to negotiate with you regarding how much you have to do or what is a “fair” amount of effort.”

 

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at tracy.durnell@gmail.com. She/her.

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