Transcript: Episode 177 — COVID-19

This is the transcript for Episode 177 of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast which answered the questions: Why did people wait so long to take precautions against COVID-19, how can we better persuade those who still refuse, and how do we take better care of our mental health during isolation?

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Dr. Julia Shaw is a psychologist best known for her work in the areas of memory and criminal psychology. In 2017 Dr. Shaw co-founded the memory science and artificial intelligence start-up Spot. Spot helps employees report workplace harassment and discrimination, and empowers organizations to build a more inclusive and respectful work environment. In 2016 she published her bestselling debut book The Memory Illusion, which has appeared in 20 languages. In 2019 she published her second international bestseller Evil: The Science Behind Humanity’s Dark Side. TWITTER: @drjuliashaw

Dr. Joe Hanson, is a science writer, biologist, and YouTube educator. He is the creator and host of It’s Okay To Be Smart, an award-winning science education show from PBS Digital Studios that celebrates curiosity and the pleasure of finding things out. His science writing has been published by WIRED, Nautilus, Scientific American and Texas Monthly. TWITTER: @DrJoeHanson

Amie M. Gordon is an assistant professor of psychology and the director of the Well-being, Health, and Interpersonal Relationships Lab (WHIRL) at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She studies the ways in which our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors shape our close relationships. She writes regularly at Psychology Today under the column Between You and Me. TWITTER:

Jay Van Bavel

From “neurons to social networks,” Jay Van Bavel studies how collective concerns like morals, group identity, and political beliefs affect human brains. His team at the Social Evaluation and Perception Lab studies these issues using social neuroscience, and approach that uses neuroimaging, lesion patients, and linguistic analysis of social media to examine how humans in groups affect the beliefs and perceptions of other humans in groups. TWITTER: @jayvanbavel

Richard Chataway is Vice President of BVA Nudge Unit UK and founder of Communication Science Group, and one of the most experienced behavioral science practitioners in the UK. His new book is, The Behavior Business. He has worked in senior strategic roles for government in Australia. France, and the UK, and for the four largest advertising agency groups, addressing behavioral challenges as varied as getting people to stop smoking, join the armed forces, drink spirits rather than wine, prevent domestic violence, pay for university tuition, submit their taxes, buy flatpack furniture, and take public transport – to name a few. TWITTER: @rich_chataway

Dr. Jud Brewer is the author of The Craving Mind: From Cigarettes to Smartphones to Love — Why We Get Hooked and how We Can Break Bad Habits— and his TED Talk on how to change a bad habit has more than 12 million views. He is the Director of Research and Innovation at the Mindfulness Center and associate professor in psychiatry at the School of Medicine at Brown University, as well as a research affiliate at MIT. His apps, mentioned in the show, are available at the link. TWITTER: @judbrewer

David McRaney:  This is a special episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast about COVID-19, the novel coronavirus. It’s released in April of 2020. It will be released in a few days from this recording. So that’s while the pandemic is still unfolding all around us, and maybe some of this material will be out of date by then. But if you’re listening to it somewhere around the beginning of April, I hope it is really useful. By now, most of us know all the terms and the guidelines, like social distancing, sheltering at home. Wash your hands to Happy birthday, twice. All of this in service of the big idea — flatten the curve —  an idea which has spread, as an idea, through the population faster than the virus could ever hope. That’s the power of culture, of human psychology, of brains interacting with brains. Of course, culture and human psychology and brains interacting with brains are also how the virus spread to begin with. And that is what this whole show will be about, the psychology behind the spread and the psychology behind the prevention of that spread.

When I asked followers on Twitter what kind of show they would want if I did a show about the psychology of this moment, the answer I received most was why aren’t people staying at home? There are news articles in the news today about all sorts of social gatherings that are still taking place. All sorts of events that people are refusing to cancel. So this question still needs to be answered for the time being. But if you are listening to this after a period of time where this is not as much of an issue because there have been lockdowns put in place, just consider the question, why didn’t people stay at home? The second most asked question was how do we persuade people in times like this to take precautions and follow guidelines, so that will be segment two. And the other topic that was most requested was how to deal with anxiety and loneliness and relationships right now. So we’re going to cover that in Segment 3. This episode will have six experts in it answering all of this across three different segments and those segments, again, with their time codes in case you want to skip ahead. Our segment one starting in about five minutes. Why we respond to situations like this in the way that we do segment two at 49 minutes. How to encourage people to respond differently both now and in the future. And Segment 3 at one minute and 18 seconds. Self-care, How to take care of yourself during a long period of isolation. So let’s play a little musical cue to break things up. And after that, segment one. Considering this is a deadly pandemic that spreads very easily through the most basic of human contact. Why aren’t people staying at home?

Yesterday, I received a message on Twitter from Dr. Sharma in Australia, a frontline doctor treating COVID-19 patients, a person overwhelmed and risking his life every waking hour. And he wrote that even in Italy, which has been devastated by this illness, where things are far worse than they are in the United States right now, people young and old, were still not social distancing. And so he said, “I’m worried the same will occur with COVID-19 in Australia.

How do we persuade everyone?” He, an expert in medical science, wanted me to ask some experts in social science how to get ahead of this thing. So for Dr. Sharma and everyone else fighting this, let’s explore that by first answering the question that is so top of mind right now, especially with doctors like Sharma, who are seeing the effects firsthand, who are overwhelmed by the result of, in many cases, risky behavior. So the first bit of expert advice is this. If you answer the question, why are some people still not staying home with, well, obviously it’s because they’re idiots or selfish or in some way just bad people, bad human beings. You’ve already made it very difficult to change those people’s behavior.

Julia Shaw:  Yeah, I mean, for me, labeling people who do bad things as bad because they’re doing something bad is generally a bad approach.

David McRaney:   That’s Dr. Julia Shaw, a psychologist who studies, among other interests, why people dehumanize others when they do bad things. She wrote a book about it, focusing on how we label others as evil.

Julia Shaw:  I’m Dr. Julia Shaw, a research associate at University College London and the author of Evil: The Science of Humanity’s Dark Side.

David McRaney:    Shaw says one of the most important lessons psychology has learned in studying persuasion is that if you want to change people’s behavior, you must first understand what is currently influencing their behavior. We know that it’s important to frame persuasion in this way thanks to another important lesson psychology learned a long time ago. When you try to explain the behaviors of another person, especially if they’re doing something you don’t like, you almost always at first attribute the behavior to that person’s personality or that person’s basic disposition, to who they are, instead of attributing it to the situation, to the context, to the influences around them, to the risks and rewards pressuring them. The most common example is when someone does something reckless in traffic, you think, oh, what an idiot. But when you do that same thing or something similarly reckless, you always have some excuse. You’re about to miss your plane. The person ahead of you slammed on the brakes. Something. When you make this overall thinking mistake, it’s called correspondance bias or the more popular term, the fundamental attribution error. And we know that this is an error because again, thanks to psychology, we know that moment to moment situations and external motivations influence behaviors more than personalities do. When you do something that other people disapprove of you can say to yourself, normally, I would never do that. But it’s hard to offer other people that same forgiveness.

Julia Shaw:   Right? We’re bad at empathy generally, and we’re really bad taking when it comes to reasons for behavior, which is kind of ludicrous in something like this because we can all understand why someone would want to go outside.

David McRaney:    Just to be clear, we’re talking about those periods of time when people can stay home, when they should be staying home, not when people must leave their home to go get groceries or supplies or if they have jobs that demand that they leave or when they must take public transportation to get to and fro. So with that in mind, what is driving people’s behavior when they decide not to engage in social distancing or not to shelter at home or anything like that in a time like this?

Julia Shaw:   Why is grandma going outside kind of thing? And I think this is luckily in some ways making people wrestle with this exact question quite a bit. I don’t think grandma is evil. I don’t think she’s selfish, but she doesn’t seem to get it. Maybe she’s stupid, but grandma is probably not stupid either. Something else is happening. And I don’t think that, you know, everyone is always doing things out of the goodness of their hearts. I think people do intentionally do bad things as well sometimes. But my default isn’t that when obviously human contact is such a fundamental part of the human experience that… so many motivators to not follow government guidelines. When we know other people have seen the same information we’ve seen and they still don’t change their behavior in the way that we have, we tend to assume they must be stupid, selfish or in the extreme evil. But as Shaw explains, the truth is especially during panic, panic that requires people to stay isolated, our behaviors are motivated by factors more powerful than our personalities.

David McRaney:    Specifically, what we’re talking about here are these things: the complexity of the issue, wishful thinking, learned helplessness, normalcy bias and social contagion. And so, for the next roughly 45 minutes, we’re going to take all of those in that order, starting with complexity.

Julia Shaw:   Yes, I mean, some of it we can’t grasp because it’s so big and global and we’re not actually used to it. It’s a bit like global warming. We’re really bad at understanding things that are big, global and have long term implications. And this I mean, global warming is even bigger because it’s also on a much sort of larger scale in terms of the amount of time. But I mean, it’s still this we’re not used to thinking about those things and our brains really struggle to realize that. I mean, our thinking is made for tribes, thinking is made for small groups of humans. And anything beyond that becomes really difficult. And on top of that, we have, you know, mathematical literacy. We have sort of innumeracy, people who are really bad at numbers in general, never mind that exponential. They’re looking at these graphs and they don’t look at graphs in the normal life like this. And so it’s really hard to take what you’re seeing and put that into something that makes sense in your brain. This is such a big, complex problem that it almost feels even to me, I feel like at least a couple times a day I go, this is so surreal.

Joe Hanson:  Yeah, there’s this there’s this great illusion in disease outbreaks of what it means to catch up with the disease. And what public health officials say is you always have the illusion that you’re caught up, but you’re really seven to 14 days behind at all times.

David McRaney:    That’s Dr. Joe Hanson. My name is Joe Hanson. I’m a YouTube creator and a scientist. I make a channel called It’s OK to Be Smart. What’s your science background? For years, I was a molecular biologist before I was making YouTube videos. So in a way, in a pandemic maybe I’ve been waiting for this moment my whole life.

David McRaney:    Joe says that in the beginning of a pandemic, when numbers are relatively small, the reactions from the government and the people quarantining themselves and the people sharing frightening information on social media can all seem like overreactions, because looking around, everything seems to be fine. But that’s what gives a virus like COVID-19 its power. By the luck of the genetic lottery, this airborne virus has a long incubation period with no symptoms during which it is highly contagious. And those four features allow it to thrive within a social animal that likes to gather in large groups, one that has evolved to respond intuitively as a group to more immediate, obvious and personal threats. Because this thing is invisible and it’s spreading faster than you can detect it.

Joe Hanson:   So you’re always playing catch up in a way and you have to force yourself out of your normal ways of thinking and acting in order to leap frog ahead, sort of leapfrogging ahead into an invisible predicted world. And we just don’t tend to think like that. That’s just not the way we normally go about our daily lives. It’s not our normal way of cognition. With that in mind, Joe recently put out a video explaining why it can be so hard to flatten the curve, to do what is most important behaviorally, socially, psychologically to avoid overwhelming the health system with a giant spike of infections. And to do that, as you probably know by now, you have to stay home and avoid crowds and wash your hands and so on in the weeks before the symptoms of the virus manifest. In other words, you have to act before it seems like it’s time to act. And as Joe explains, humans are just not very good at that. Not at first, which in a time like this at first is the time that matters most. On day one, no one you know is sick. It feels like a normal day. It may stay like this for a long time until one day a few people, you know, are sick. And suddenly a few days later, it will seem like everyone is sick and it will feel like it happened instantly. Everything looks fine until it isn’t fine. This is the paradox of pandemics. And it’s why with an outbreak like COVID-19, you hear health officials calling for huge, drastic and rapid responses in the early days when infection numbers are still relatively small.

David McRaney:    It’s a great video. I highly recommend it. And I’ll have links to it in the show notes for this episode. And in that video, to help people grasp exponential growth, Joe uses a question from the cognitive reflexion task, a test in psychology that reveals how our intuitions concerning statistical and other mathematical problems is often very wrong. And so one of the most important cognitive skills that a person can possess is the ability to know when and when not to trust your gut.

Joe Hanson:   This is one of those problems that’s supposedly asked at like Google job interviews, supposed to be this really hard thought experiment. If you start with a pond with one lily pad and you know that on day 60, this pond will be full of lily pads, covered completely. And these lily pads double every single day. Well, on what day is this lily pad pond half full? Well, many people’s intuition would say something like halfway through day 30. But the reality is that’s day 59 because these lily pads double on that very last day from half of the pond to the full pond. And what’s even trickier is to think about not just the point of half way, but something, a point that’s smaller like, say, just 1 percent of the pond doesn’t seem like very much. Look, I get on day 60 we’re full, day fifty nine we’re half, well, one percent of the pond’s coverage happens to come in at day fifty four, the very last seven days are where basically all of this visible growth occurs. It was quiet, quiet, quiet. Nothing was seemingly happening until it was very rapidly covered in lily pads. And if you can just for a moment put a virus in the place of a lily pad, then I think people can get a sense of just how rapidly and unexpectedly these can change and really sneak up on you in a funny way.

David McRaney:    Starting at 1 doubling every day, if it takes 60 days to reach saturation, it takes fifty four days before you reach 1 percent of saturation. That’s how exponential growth makes COVID slow and invisible and then fast and everywhere. This is what makes everything seem very normal during a long stretch of time when experts are asking people to act as if everything is very much not normal. And for some, that long, quiet period of dissonance before makes it seem really unreasonable to stop engaging in your normal routines.

Julia Shaw:   I mean, even I, one of the reasons I went outside initially, was because government guidance was inconsistent and it was really unclear at what point I should be staying home. And so like if I have one of the symptoms, but not three of the symptoms, you know, especially weeks ago, the guidance was still go outside. It’s fine. And then but you’re in your head, you going, but it doesn’t seem like it’s fine. But then you’re outside nonetheless, because you’re going well, this is literally what the government is telling me to do. So, I mean, some of it is confusion.

Julia Shaw:   And I think that is one of the main things, is that we don’t know what we should do. Government guidance is constantly changing. We might not be on top of it. It’s hard to understand anyway, because it’s all medical advice. We’re talking about exponentials. I mean, we’re talking in a language are just not used to talking about.

David McRaney:    And Shaw says that one of the most dangerous things that can happen when people in authority provide mixed messages to the public is that a public that does follow guidelines may not continue to follow them if those guidelines keep changing, especially if the new guidelines completely contradict the old ones. People may enter a state of learned helplessness and the result is just giving up, giving up following guidelines altogether.

Julia Shaw:   So learned helplessness as when we are exposed to a stressor. So something negative typically repeatedly. And basically, we were so used to being attacked and not being able to respond appropriately or we don’t how to respond appropriately that we just give up. And so that the helplessness comes from feeling like you’ve never been able to fight back. And so in terms of government guidance, if you translate that into something else, the sort of government pieces that your government keeps saying, you know, here’s what you do. And then the next day, I mean, we have this in the UK where Boris Johnson said you should go outside to the parks instead of just other social events to get exercise this weekend. Everybody went to the park and on Monday, Boris Johnson yelled at us for going to the park. So, I mean, it just feels like you can’t do anything right. And so that can create the same idea like you’re being punished, but there’s actually nothing you don’t feel like you’re in control of that, what you’re being punished for and you can’t really fight back. And so you give up. And so you just sort of say either I’m going to not try to understand this anymore or you just say, I’m not going to do anything, which in some ways, if not doing anything, means staying home is kind of fine, but if not doing anything means giving up and not trying to follow the guidance, that’s not so fine.

David McRaney:    In a state of uncertainty and complexity in which the problem is invisible and the guidelines ask us to do something during a time in which everything still seems normal, and we feel generally powerless to do anything, we will be compelled to lower our anxiety by searching for information that confirms we have nothing to worry about. This is something psychologists call “wishful thinking.” The situation is so enormous and unthinkable that it’s easier to deal with it cognitively, if we reduce the scale of what is happening to something that will affect only a small number of people, or going further, we reduce it to something that’s being blown out of proportion by “the media” or people that are overreacting thanks to “the media.” If we want those things to be true, then confirmation bias will rear its familiar and ugly head as we go searching for confirmation of what we would like to be true. And those are all sound strategies for reducing anxiety, at least at first when no one, you know, is affected. For people who already distrust the media, this can just make everything seem like yet another crisis that will amount to nothing.

Julia Shaw We go online and we look up stuff and we go, you know, I’m going to look for articles that tell me either to panic or not to panic and you’ll find stuff. I mean, you’ll find ridiculous conspiracy theories and some of the same conspiracy theories that were around for, for example, the TB and other previous pandemics where we saw massive medical emergencies and people come out with these conspiracy theories that governments are trying to kill old people or that in a certain category of people that we currently don’t like or whatever are behind it and somehow trying to control people this way. Ah it’s just the Internet. But unfortunately, if you’re already engaging in wishful thinking, that can just reinforce you’re, you know, I don’t think you know, I don’t think it’s as bad as you’re making it out to be.

Amy M. Gordon:  Right. I mean, I think that’s where where the strong normalcy bias comes in. That we sort of expect that what’s happened before will continue happening.

David McRaney:    That’s social psychologist Dr. Amy M. Gordon.

Amy M. Gordon:   I’m Amie Gordon. I am a social personality, psychologist. I study well-being, health and interpersonal relationships. And I am an assistant professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

David McRaney:    What Dr. Morgan is talking about, normalcy bias, it’s one of the most powerful forces in all of this. In fact, everything we’ve talked about so far exacerbates it. We each have a tendency in situations of extreme uncertainty to at first expect that things will continue to occur in the future the way they have typically occurred in the past.

Amy M. Gordon:   And most of the time, we’re right, you know, most of the time that is the way that our world works. And then when it shifts, when we have these huge, unprecedented moments where things have changed I think that we suffer.

David McRaney:    In airplane crashes and hurricanes and floods and volcanoes and tornadoes and house fires, even things like 9/11 and Chernobyl, people wait for far longer than they think they would to save themselves. Psychologists refer to this as normalcy bias, an extension of it. First responders call this negative panic. So predictable that it’s often factored into fatality predictions and everything from ships sinkings to stadium evacuations.

Amy M. Gordon:   Some of the classic examples that people bring up are things like natural disasters, volcanoes. So people talk about with Mount Vesuvius that people didn’t leave quickly enough. I think maybe a modern day example of that would be people during fires, you know, that we’re experiencing on the West Coast or hurricanes on the East Coast where, you know, it’s coming. You hear about it. But it’s hard to really wrap your mind around the fact that something so dangerous and big is coming that this change is happening. So people tend to stay in their homes a lot longer than they might if they sort of were able to fully recognize the extent of the danger coming at them. People talk about it a little bit with car accidents, too, that it takes people like there’s this period of adjustment where you kind of can’t accept what’s just happened, that you’ve had this experience that you might actually be hurt and that some of that is just our brains sort of taking a while to recalculate and accept that, you know, something has changed, that the normal events aren’t just happening. Another example I think about that’s unfortunately become more prevalent is active shooter situations and a little bit with that where people tend to think like to downplay it, right. Like they hear something happening. And your first reaction is it’s just teenagers messing around. Right, or it’s fireworks going off and sort of that our brain is trying to calculate based on everything it’s known before what could be happening. And that sort of slowed down reaction time then to accept that no, this is, you know, a dangerous and unprecedented situation.

David McRaney:    For me, by far, the most powerful example of normalcy bias I’ve ever come across is the Tinerife disaster. It’s sort of a side story to all this, but I think it’s worth hearing. So here’s the story. In nineteen seventy seven on an island in the Canaries called Tinerife, a series of mistakes led to enormous 747 passenger planes to collide as one attempted to take off, a KLM flight bounced off a Pan Am flight and then it soared for five hundred feet and then tumbled on the ground in a terrible jet fuel explosion. Everyone onboard disintegrated and the fire was so intense it burned well into the next day. Rescue crews spilled out onto the tarmac, but they didn’t drive out of the Pan Am flight, which was still intact. Instead, they rushed to the flaming wreckage of the KLM plane. So for 20 minutes in the chaos, firefighters and emergency personnel thought they were dealing with only one problem. They thought the flames peeking out from the fog and the distance were just more wreckage, not another airplane in need of immediate evacuation. So the survivors onboard the Pan Am flight would not be rescued.

David McRaney:    Here’s the scene. The engines were still running at full power because the pilot had attempted to turn at the last second and the crew couldn’t switch them off because the wires had been severed. The crash sheared away most of the top half of the 747. People lay in pieces from the impact. Flames spread through the carnage. A massive fire began to take over the plane and smoke filled the fuselage. To live, people had to act quickly. They had to unbuckle, move through the chaos onto the intact wing and then jump 20 feet onto wreckage. Escape was possible, but not all of the survivors attempted it. Some bolted into action, unbuckled loved ones and strangers, and pushed them out to safety. But others stayed put and were consumed. Of the four hundred and ninety six people, only 70 had made it outside. Everyone else was killed. The center fuel tank exploded, killing everyone who had survived the initial crash and fire, but who had not escaped. According to Amanda Ripley’s book The Unthinkable, investigators later said that the survivors of the initial impact had one minute before the fire took them, and in that one minute, several dozen who could have escaped, failed to take action, failed to break free of their paralysis. Psychologist Daniel Johnson has rigorously studied the strange behavior. And in his research, he interviewed survivors, of the Tenerife crash. In Johnson’s interview with Paul and Floy Heck, both passengers on the Pan Am flight, they recalled not only their traveling companions sitting motionless as they hustled to find a way out, but dozens of others who also made no effort to stand as the Hecks raced past them. In the first moments of the incident, right after the top of the plane was sliced open Paul Heck looked over to his wife, Floy, she was motionless, frozen in place, unable to process what’s happening. He screamed for her to follow him. They unbuckled, joined hands and then he led her out of the plane as the smoke began to billow. Floy later realized she possibly could have saved all those people sitting in a stupor just by yelling at them to join her, but she too was in a daze with no thoughts of escape as she blindly followed her husband. Years later, Floy Heck was interviewed by the Orange County Register and she told the reporter she remembered looking back just before leaping out of a gash in the wall. She saw her friend still in the seat where they had been sitting with her hands folded in her lap, her eyes glassed over. Her friend did not survive the fire. John Lege, a psychologist at the University of Lancaster, says that in situations fast and slow, about 75 percent of people will wait and see what to do instead of acting right away. Why? Well, there’s shock, shock at not knowing what to do in an unfamiliar situation, but there’s also the risk of social shaming. No one wants to look like a fool if it all turns out to be false. No one wants to seem like a prepper or like they’re overreacting because if they’re wrong well, that makes you seem less trustworthy to your peers in the future. Since we are social primates, that’s a huge risk that most people just do not want to take.

Amy M. Gordon:   In some ways, right we’re programmed for this because most of the time that is what’s going to happen. Things are going to continue happening the way they were before. Right. One of our best predictors of what happens in the future is what’s happened, you know, right before that event. And so. It’s hard for me to totally wrap my head around this because I think. Right. Like what? I think what would I do if a plane actually did crash? I’m always thinking it might. But at the same time, I’m thinking that but not actually thinking that right. Where I think perhaps if it actually did, it would be really hard for me to come to terms with that because it doesn’t usually happen. Most of the time. Things are fine because I think in the current situation with the pandemic, we didn’t know yet what was going to happen. Right. We didn’t know which path we were going to be on. Were we going to see that some people were overreacting? And, you know, that’s happened before with H1N1. I think there were some places that treated it very seriously and reacted strongly by closing things down. And then they realized, no, it’s not as lethal as we thought it was. It’s not as big of an issue. And so they stepped back those measures. Right. And so which we didn’t know early on, I feel like which way it was really going to turn out, or at least that was my assumption or my my perspective as somebody who’s knowledgeable about these things. But isn’t, you know, an immunologist that I couldn’t quite tell which path we were on yet. And so it was hard for me to reconcile whether I was under reacting or overreacting. Right. Like which which way to go.

David McRaney:    No one wants to be an overreacter just in case it’s nothing and no one wants to be an underreacter just in case the threat is real. So what do we do in a situation like that? According to a 2001 study by sociologist Thomas Drabek, when people are asked to leave in anticipation of a disaster, most check with four or more sources of information before deciding what to do. Then they check with family. Then they go look up information elsewhere and then they look to authorities. All those steps known as milling means that if everyone is doing that, then everything kind of seems normal right before the bad thing happens because no one else is freaking out. If everyone else is milling around waiting for information, you will too. Those who are deeply concerned with evacuation procedures, first responders, architects, stadium personnel, the travel industry, they’re all aware of normalcy, bias. And they write about it in their manuals and trade journals. I found this 1985 paper published in the International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters. In that journal, sociologists Shunji Mikami and Ken’Ichi Ikeda at the University of Tokyo identify the exact same steps as Drabek. And they used the 1982 flood in Nagasaki as their example. Light flooding occurred there every year and the residents assumed the heavy rainfall was part of that familiar routine. Soon, though, they realized the waters were getting higher and higher and doing so faster than in years past. At 4:55 p.m., the government issued a flood warning. Still, some waited to see how peculiar the flooding would actually be, how out of the ordinary. Only 13 percent of the residents evacuated by 9 p.m.. In the end, two hundred and sixty five were killed. So that’s the power of normalcy bias to cause people to just keep doing what they would normally be doing because they don’t know what they ought to be doing.

David McRaney:    And another issue is that when we’re asked to change our routines, we often experience what psychologists call an extinction burst, which is what happens when an old behavior is dying out in the brain being replaced by a new one. Like when you teach your dog to stop doing something naughty and right when that naughty behavior seems to be gone, they act out one last time to see if they can get away with it. If they can, then the behavior will be reborn anew. And that’s how brains keep from losing good behavioral routines during temporary changes in the environment, during social distancing. People who have been very good for a week or so will often do stuff like this. Inviting people over, going to hang out with a friend, just one little act of rebellion. Add this to something else called a last gasp of freedom and things start to come apart. You know, how people smoke one last pack of cigarets have one last drink. Stuff like that. In this case, it’s one last party, one last night on the town or one last meal at a restaurant. Combined extinction burst with last gasps of freedom when everyone is doing that then everyone sees everyone else doing that. And now it seems permissible. It seems like if you don’t do that, you might be the fool. You might be overreacting. When it comes to reducing anxiety with wishful thinking, there’s this quote by Steinbeck that I love and I’ve said it many times in the show. Here’s the quote. “Sometimes a man wants to be stupid that lets him do a thing his cleverness forbids.” In psychology, they refer to this as motivated reasoning. When highly motivated, we will reason our way mostly through justification toward the behaviors we want to do and the goals we wish to reach. If you want to get laid, you want to go to Daytona for spring break, you want to believe the president and the news you trust when they tell you there’s nothing to worry about because they are motivated by some sort of drive, like not wanting to look weak or inept or harm the economy or you just don’t want to look like you’re overreacting before it’s time to panic and make the rest of the country panic, then all of this could lead to that universal element of human nature, normalcy, bias. When we don’t want to act because it is risky, because we want to do something else that those actions would prevent, we justify it to ourselves and others with motivated reasoning, and that leads to minimization. People say things to themselves like it’s basically like the flu or it only affects old people or the odds of you getting this are so low.

David McRaney:    I there’s also this like desire for it to be normal, right? Like, I want… I don’t want that to be real. Like, I guess I don’t personally trend in the direction of, you know, conspiratorial thinking as much as like a lot of other people from my family. But I think in this moment, I’m like, whatever that thing is, really wants to be like, oh, yeah, this is really actually not going to be that bad. Because everything. Right. It’s still very abstract. It’s still just metaphors. I still just see charts and graphs on the Internet. Like it has not gotten close enough to my social circle for me to break the availability. You know, the the availability, bias and normalcy bias walk hand-in-hand and dance through the garden together. And so you go ahead, talk about that for a bit. 

Amy M. Gordon:   So I completely agree with you again. It’s it’s really interesting to be someone who studies this at the same time that I’m experiencing it, you know, and so I’m sort of thinking through my own personal experience and I’ve been thinking about this actually and linking it a little bit with climate change to and ah, how hard it is for some people to sort of see and accept that and that things that change slowly and that are more sort of future-oriented. We’re saying something’s gonna happen down the line if we don’t take action now when everything around us still looks so normal, is it particularly difficult? But if you live somewhere where you’re seeing that change happen or you are personally experiencing it with someone you know, I still don’t know anyone who has been tested positive for Coronavirus. Right. My sisters, family all have fevers. We’ll never know probably if they have it or not because they won’t get tested. But but because it’s so distant from me, I think it it felt like it can’t really be that big of a deal. Right. Because I’m not seeing it anywhere. But I bet the people who knew someone early on that for them it felt big, even if that person was in another country, to them it suddenly became real and they were able to envision it in a different way. I also think that’s why having celebrities test positive makes people feel like it’s more real. Right. We don’t know Tom Hanks, but I keep hearing people talk about him. And it’s that feeling. I had that same thing. I was like, Tom Hanks has it like, OK, I have to take this seriously. Like, how did Tom Hanks get it? So I think there is something that can actually help us by hearing familiar names. You know, Justin Trudeau’s wife, just people that to us, some we recognize it creates more about availability heuristic going on. That OK. Now, I can sort of visualize it because these bases that I’m familiar with, these names, I hear suddenly they have it. So now it feels a little more real to me.

David McRaney:    This is such a huge one. I was going to ask about that. I’m glad you brought it up anyway. The other which is the availability, I guess. I felt like Tom Hanks was the thing I like. Yeah. There’s a neuroscientist I followed asked what was the thing that made you start taking it seriously? And I was like, if I’m being honest with myself. It was Tom Hanks. It was because it’s Tom Hanks. He’s the last good person left in our country that we all love.

Amy M. Gordon:   And he’s not even here, right? He’s in Australia. What does that have to do with us in the US? And yet hearing him that he had it. My sister texted me and I remember texting her back being like, that’s crazy. How did Tom Hanks get it? I’m like, I don’t even know him. Like, why shouldn’t he get it? But it was it was a similar moment for me that it was a point added that that things started to change. It’s funny. You know, I talked to my neighbor with like 12 feet of distance this morning, and he told me that Tom Hanks is getting better. It was happy to hear that. I think he’s doing well. Right. It’s just interesting. It’s interesting, too, because it means we’re sort of all sharing that experience together also to make it normalize it for all of us, which is that’s going a different direction. But I thought also a lot about normalcy bias in terms of how quickly then we adapt to the new normal and sort of expect this new situation to persist and how we sort of get comfortable with change. Now, it’s like like sort of expecting life to continue like this, you know, for a longer period of time now as well.

David McRaney:    Yeah, I do want to really emphasize what you just shared. The idea of you a scientist who is an expert on human behavior, standing 12 feet away from your neighbor talking about how Tom Hanks is better. Have you heard the news? There’s just something so powerful about that to me. That speaks volumes about what we’re all going through and how and how brains deal with a moment like this. I mean, it feels like everything feels like everything that we’re talking about is encapsulated within that. And like from normalicy to availability to anxiety to panic to the changing of norms to all of it, all of it right there.

Amy M. Gordon:   Well, I I think another thing to keep in mind is how much humans need connection. And so, you know, we are seeking it out. And in this time, moments like this. Right. Maybe standing twelve feet away from someone. We want we want to connect with them in some way. And the shared experience of finding that common ground, whether it’s talking about a celebrity or talking about, you know, our experiences of being isolated, whatever it is, we we as people really seek out those moments and those connections with others.

David McRaney:    That concludes the contributions of wishful thinking to all of this. Let’s return to Dr. Julia Shaw to see where we are in this grand explanation of why don’t some people stay home during a pandemic.

Julia Shaw:   So just a quick summary.   So one of the reasons why we might go outside or why people might go outside is because they’re confused and because they have this kind of learned helplessness, another is that they just can’t grasp it. It’s too big for people to understand. And so they’re just it’s this is I think we’re actually a lot of like when you think of sort of grandma. I think it can be that sort of it’s so big and so complex that maybe it’s difficult to grasp the scale of it. And we engage in wishful thinking. That’s number three. That we can just find anything to confirm whatever belief we happen to have. And so if we really think the world is ending, we can go find information that tells us, yes, it is ending. If we think it’s not so bad and it’s no worse than the flu, then we will find an article that tells us that that is true. And so we need to be very careful that we don’t just have wishful thinking and want the world to be a certain way. And then number four is if you just don’t believe it. And I think this is where fake news comes in and where sensationalist stories and where sort of media have been complicit in creating a constantly stressful news cycle. Everything and everyone is always in crisis. And so when an actual crisis comes along, I mean, it can be difficult to know how you’re seeking because you’re going well. But you’ve told me all these other things are crises and some of them have turned out to be fine, especially for me as an individual. And so why should I take this one seriously?

Jay Van Bavel:  What we are currently seeing in the United States is the devastating impact that partisanship is going to have on public health.

David McRaney:    That’s psychologist and neuroscientist Jay Van Bavel.

Jay Van Bavel:   Hi, my name is Jay Van Bavel. I’m an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at New York University. My research examines how our group identities shape how we interpret the world.

David McRaney:    Yes, as crazy as this next part is going to sound, at least at the time of this recording, there is a huge partisan divide in human behavior in the United States. In one poll that Bavel shared, the question was, whom do you trust for corona info? Imagine there’s a list of possible sources that you just check off which ones you trust. Democrats marked 87 percent the CDC, 75 percent the governor, 72 percent national media, 72 percent friends and family, 44 percent religious leaders, and 14 percent Trump. Republicans marked 90 percent Trump, 84 percent, the CDC, 81 percent friends and families, 71 percent religious leaders, 65 percent the Governor and 13 percent national media.

Jay Van Bavel:   In a series of polls conducted over the last few weeks in the United States we have seen repeated and robust evidence that Democrats are taking the issue of the COIVD or corona virus pandemic much more seriously than Republicans. There has been a big partisan gap in not only how seriously they see the threat, but on a number of health behaviors like willingness to minimize travel, reduce time in crowds, engage in hand-washing and other social distancing activities. You might be skeptical simply by seeing the polls that this is a partisan issue, but there is recent evidence that is also mirrored in partisan gaps in infection rates. One recent piece of data that was released on FiveThirtyEight found that people in red states were now getting infected at a greater rate than people at blue states. This is a potential downstream consequence of these beliefs. One thing that people have suggested is maybe this is just because you have a greater congregation of Democrats in urban environments like New York City or Seattle, where the virus has hit first and this might account for it. But when we have looked at actual social distancing behaviors in iPhones, when we statistically adjust for urban versus rural environments or population density, we find that that cannot fully explain the partisan gap. So this suggests that partisanship is playing a difference in how people are understanding this information and acting on the behavior. Over and above the effects of just whether or not you live in an urban or rural neighborhood. One of the reasons we suspect this is happening is because the messaging from Republican leaders like Donald Trump, Fox News and talk radio spent several weeks downplaying the risks of COVID. And as the disease, sorry, the virus started to take hold and has been growing exponentially people who didn’t take early steps to reduce their risk were at much higher probability of getting infected later on.

David McRaney:    Now, these are new studies. They’re still being researched. They’re still playing out. They still must be examined. But it does look like partisanship can play a significant role in how viruses thrive or perish, depending on the nuances of human behavior.

Jay Van Bavel:   But the good news is that this difference in behavior that we’re seeing is not likely to continue. People have been learning more and getting more exposed to different news and hearing slightly different messages from the president and Fox News. You have seen in some polls a closing of the partisan gap. So now the difference between Democrats and Republicans in their concern about the pandemic has decreased. Yet at the last time I checked, there is still about a 20 point gap on one major poll. So the partisan gap is closing, but it’s still large and significant.

David McRaney:    So what should we do, knowing everything that we now know? Having learned everything we’ve learned so far in this episode, what should we do? Well, let’s start with the what should we do part of the show by listening to what Bavel has to say about that.

Jay Van Bavel:   What we want people to do is look for nonpartisan news sources like the Center for Disease Control or the World Health Organization. Tune out political leaders who might have their personal interests at heart and are not… are focused more on issues like getting elected or looking good in the media rather than ensuring the best possible health of their constituents. And so I recommend to people treat your media diet just like you would your regular diet. This is a really important moment where you need a healthy media diet to minimize the risk factors to yourself and to your family and to your friends. This is especially true if you’re older or have preexisting health conditions or are in contact with family or friends who do. There are many issues that are relatively trivial where partisans disagree, like the size of crowds as at presidential inaugurations for Trump and Obama. We debate these things. There is a certain absurdity to them. We are not talking about those type of issues right now. When we are talking about an issue of a pandemic, this is very strictly a matter of life and death. And this is a case where ignorance based on partisan identities and commitment to what your leaders say could put you at moral risk if they are wrong. And this is why you need to only believe your leaders if their advice is aligning with what world’s leading experts and medical doctors are saying.

David McRaney:    So with all that in mind as consumers of information, let’s begin segment two. What about people whose job it is to deliver that information? What should leaders authority figures, heads of state, science communicators, doctors and so on based on what we know about persuasion, what psychology has learned through research, how should our messages to the public and to each other be framed? Well, to answer that giant question, I reached out to the world’s leading expert on all of this. The expert. Seriously, listen to this guy’s credentials.

Richard Chataway:  So I’m Richard Chataway. I’ve just written a new book called The Behavior Business and How to Apply Behavior Science for Business Success. I’ve been working in applied behavior science for about 15 years now, initially for the government here in the U.K., I started off working for the Department of Health on anti-smoking campaigns and then went on to work in a number of roles within government advising on best practices in applying behavior science, particularly in communications. So how we could use communications to change behavior. And then I went to Australia for a number of years where I had a communications strategy for the federal government there, but also worked at a state level in New South Wales, in Sydney. And then when I returned from Australia in 2015, I worked for a company called Ogilvy, a major communications network heading up Ogilvy Change, which was their behavior practice. I set up my own business specializing in applying behavior science communications, and I now work for a company called BVA Nudge Unit, who are a specialist behavioral practice part of BVA, which is a large French-owned market research company. And we apply behavioral science or or nudges to influence behavior in a wide range of categories, particularly in customer experience, but also employee behavior. And we are also working for some governments as well.

David McRaney:    Wow. So that is a hell of a CV or as we’d say in my part of the world, those are some those are some mighty nice bonafides. This makes you a super expert on something that I want to talk about for this very special episode of the podcast, which is trying to just give people something useful in this very uncertain time, something that is affecting everyone, everyone in your country, everyone across the planet. Here we are in two different countries right now discussing something that is connecting us in this very strange way. And as I understand it, you being a super expert on on on not just human behavior and how behavior is affected by context and external factors and all sorts of other things. But also, how to advise institutions in taking what we’ve learned in the last 50 or so years, as you say in the book, we’ve learned more in the last 50 years, than the last 50,000 years when it comes to human behavior. All of our philosophizing over the last two thousand years didn’t really get, you know, hardcore, quantified and tested until the last 50 years. And we’re still sorting it all out. We’re replicating it and really figuring out what does and doesn’t work. You are in a position to advise governments right now. And as I understand it, you were advising France. Can you tell me what’s going on there and how you were asked to do this and what are you advising them to do?

Richard Chataway:   Well, yeah, it’s it’s a very new thing. So it’s only literally happened in the last couple of days as we’re speaking. So. So I can’t say too much about what we are doing yet because that’s still still being worked on. But but we have been involved in in, as I say, the efforts there. We also are doing a bit of work in Italy as well. At the time we are speaking, Italy is starting to lessen some of the restrictions or lockdowns they’ve had in place, such as the closure of schools… And so we’re helping that where the schools, for example, are starting to open again, how we can ensure that some of the behaviors necessary to prevent the spread of coronavirus are actually stay in place once once people those restrictions are lifted. And also to minimize the impact of what’s known as as behavioral fatigue or what’s being called behavioral fatigue. That is some of these measures that are being put in place, such as lockdowns over time, how you make sure people adhere to those when after a few weeks they might be starting to get a bit stir crazy, for example. So, yeah, so that’s the kind of thing that we’re doing. But but you know, what we’ve done in the past and the kind of work I’ve done in the past has been around introducing particularly through communications ways of influencing behavior or framing choices for people that lead to the decisions and the behavior that we want. And as I say in the book, you know, if you’re in business, you’re in the business of behavior. That is, you know, a business has to influence behavior in order to succeed. It needs people to buy its products and services at a fundamental level to in order to generate revenue. And it needs the people within those businesses to behave in certain ways to produce those products and services. Well, the very least, a program, the machines that make those products and services. And the same is true of government and the issues that we’re facing, with coronavirus, which is that, yes, you know, the solution to Corona virus long term is a vaccine. And we’re reliant on the medical scientists to to do what they need to do to produce that vaccine. And relying on the doctors and nurses within our healthcare systems to provide the care that people need. To limit the impact of coronavirus directly on health. However, what we need to do in the interim is have is ensure that the behaviors of the populations of all the affected countries are that people are behaving in a way that limits the spread of the virus and limits the impact of it. So the relevance of behavioral science and the relevance of what you might call nudges to that are to influence behavior of citizens in a way that we limit the spread of the virus. Now, I think one of the things that’s that’s very interesting and I’ve written about recently is that, you know, effectively what we’re doing by doing that is we’re trying to buy time for the doctors and the nurses and the medical scientists. We’re trying to the phrase that seems to be used at the moment is flattening the curve. We’re trying to limit the or at least spread the impacts of coronavirus such that there isn’t a a noticeable peak or a sufficiently large peak in cases that the health care system is absolutely overwhelmed, because that has a big impact not only on people who have the virus and their likelihood of survival, but also other people in the health care system who are vulnerable or other people in society at large. And that’s really where behavioral science and lodging can can help in this regard is by, as I say, influencing the behavior of citizens such that we don’t create that peak and we don’t overwhelm the health care system.

David McRaney:    Well, I know people listening really want to know something practical. There will be people listening who are in local governments. There’ll be people who are in who are the mayors of small towns who are working in those administrations. I know from my Twitter followers that there are people who work on all levels of government. There are people within the United States House representatives who listen to the show. So I’m wondering, what are some simple, practical, you know, things that we know already that could be helpful when it comes to, and I’ll jjust go down like a very short list, like when it comes to asking people, please do shelter at home, which is the euphemism we’re using right now. So how can we encourage people to actually follow that advice?

Richard Chataway:   Yeah, well, I think that’s a really interesting one, because one of the things that I’m noticing a lot in in the U.S., but also here in the UK and a few other countries as well, is there are big differences in the way that this advice is being framed and the way that the the you know, the the measures are being communicated to citizens. And one thing that we know from behavior science, you know, one of the fundamental findings of behavioral science I talk about my book is how you say something is as important, if not more so than what you’re saying. So. So when you’re talking about, for example, stay in your home, saying stay in your home is a very kind of is a very authoritarian way of positioning it. And also, it’s a it’s not necessarily framing it in a very positive way. So, you know, I know have noticed the effects of this myself, the town where I live in which is a popular day trip and holiday destination was absolutely swamped with people at the weekend here in the UK because that advice about staying in a home was being openly flouted by a number of the local population who who felt that they… cause the weather was good they felt they deserved a day out. So it puts those of us who live in the town at risk. So one of the ways in which you could frame staying at home is obviously in terms of, you know, some of the reasons for that and some of the positive aspects of it. So, of course, you know, there are things you can do staying home, which are positive things, you know, whether it’s, you know, catching up on the Netflix box set. Oh, you know, binge watching, binge watching TV shows, whether it’s you know, it’s actually, you know, the rationale for staying at home and the positive aspects of that, which are, you know, by staying at home, you are not risking the lives of people you care about. You’re not risking, you know, your elderly relatives or all those people, you know, who may have preexisting health conditions. I’m presenting it as a kind of altruistic act. One thing I thought I thought was very interesting was I saw the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, talking about a different behavior related to to coronavirus. And he claimed it was un-Australian. So he was talking about stockpiling in that case. But people who were stockpiling, he said, was un-Australian. And having lived in Australia, I know that’s basically the worst insult you could ever give to an Australian is to claim that they are not Australian, a very proud nation. So so, you know, by saying that he was really, you know, in the strongest possible terms, pointing out that those people were were A) not part of the in-group, that is Australians. And B), that that behavior was was deplorable. So so, you know, I guess, you know, in those ways and creating those kind of leveraging those kind of biases that we have. In terms of however you frame the information rather than the slightly equivocal way saying don’t go out or stay at home, saying that actually by going out, these are the consequences. If you like stigmatizing it in a slightly different way, I would say it would be much more effective.

David McRaney:    It’s something that’s…it’s difficult. I feel it, you know, like I’ve tried to feel like an empathy toward all human beings in the sense that, you know, we are so, the fundamental attribution error, the whole thing that goes around with that, just the idea that, you know, as you say all throughout your your book, that people are… different contexts, different pressures, different goals, different motivations, different risks, rewards — it alters what people do, even if they believe in their heart of hearts, if they believe, if they identify with the concept that, “No, I choose what I do. I deeply ruminate, and my values guide my behaviors.” We know from the research, we know from the application of the research in your work, that people are driven by motivations. And those motivations can come from all sorts of external factors. And I try to feel that when I look at the what’s going on with it, like the spring breakers, for example, like if you if any one of us had the sort of pressures and motivations that they have and the same risks and rewards, maybe we’d behave in the same way because that’s just how brains work. So the the the tisk, tsking and finger-wagging is not how you influence that cohort to alter their behavior.

Richard Chataway:   Absolutely, yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I don’t think there’s a there’s a concept which is which I’m a I’m sure you’re probably familiar with it, which is psychological reactance advice that we have, which is reactance, which is that, you know, often when we’re told to do something particularly by a percieved authority figure then we react against it. Yes. And I think, you know, there’s a particular issue with that with coronavirus, which is related to how people’s perceptions of those authority figures, particularly politicians. I mean, I remember a very interesting example, which fortunately the government in the UK seems to be largely adhering to. But when I worked in government in the UK in about so 2010, that was a year after the H1N1 flu pandemic had happened, the swine flu pandemic. And what was very interesting about that was that what the government had discovered during in the UK, discovered during that virus, was that actually in order to get adherents to the measures that the government was advising, the advice was much more likely to be adhered to and followed when it was communicated by the chief scientific adviser, who’s the most senior science adviser to the governments and the chief medical officer, who’s the most senior medical advice to the government than it was when it was communicated by the prime minister or any other politician. And that was because there was a perception that whatever advice the politicians was giving was effectively biased in some way, or it was it was it was suiting their own purposes. And and particularly for people, obviously, who maybe didn’t vote for the guy who was communicating that advice. Whereas when it was communicated by the chief scientific adviser or the chief medical officer, they were perceived as they are as neutral advisors. And also it was leveraging a little bit of authority bias. And, you know, as demonstrated by things like the famous Milgram experiments, you know, we have a lot of deference towards scientists and we have a lot of deference towards, you know, what the traditional white coated kind of people in white lab coats. They’re perceived as experts and they’re perceived as as being independent. And that was really necessary in terms of the advice that they were giving on how people should behave. And it’s been noticeable that there’s been a real change in the way that the government here in the UK has been communicating around coronavirus, which has been that they’ve been giving in the daily briefings that are now happening, they give equal weight to the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, but also to the scientific adviser and the medical and the chief scientific officer and the chief medical officer as well. And their advice is seen as being, as you know, as weighty if not more so.

David McRaney:    Yeah, I don’t know what’s going to happen here, but I’ve seen like that sort of kind of happening in our, you know, briefings as well. But who knows? But I’ve I’m I’m hoping it’ll continue. And to your bigger point,  I noticed that, when a trend… there is this reaction happening the United States right now, which is to say, like, how are the red states handling this and how the blue states handling this? And I can see this narrative forming that the Democrats are doing this, the Republicans are doing this, and you ought not be doing that. And whatever it is that that group of people is doing that we have identified that is more common that within that cohort and we’d rather them not be doing that. The identifying it as a thing that that group does and we are against it is just… everything in social science says never, ever  try to change behavior from that direction by saying, oh, no, the Republicans aren’t conservatives aren’t taking this seriously because they’re conspiracy theorists and they think that. And so whatever it is, you’re you’re that you would wish they weren’t doing, which might be legitimate, but you’re saying the reason they’re not doing it is because of the group to which they belong requires them or or is more likely to influence them or they’re doing it simply because they are part of that group. It’s over. You’ve done you’ve just ruined any chances of reaching that group. Am I right about that?

Yeah, absolutely. I completely agree. I think, you know, as I was saying earlier, you know, how you communicate something as important as what you’re saying, and that equally applies to who’s communicating, the information to you. You know, we can receive two pieces of information from two different people and perceive them completely differently depending on what our associations with that person are. And often that will be subconscious. So, you know, as you say, you know, if we’re if it’s communicated by a Democrat or Republican, how we perceive the exact same information will be will be received differently because of the associations, subconscious associations we have with that person and whether we we are part of that group. Identify yourself, identify as being in that group or not. So so, yeah, that, you know, there’s those in-group biases are really strong for issues like this, particularly given, you know, how high the stakes are. I think going back to what we’re saying about about young people as well, I think one thing that’s really interesting as well is that, you know, there is a general reactance against authority figures amongst younger people. You know, anyone who’s a parent will know this very well. And so, you know, thinking about how to you know, when you talk about a spring breakers, for example, thinking about who’s going to be most influential with that group is really critical. To be frank, you know, they’re not going to be listening to the governors and the president and anyone, those kind of authority figures or certainly lots of them won’t be in this and they won’t be, they won’t be adhering to their advice as strongly as other groups would. So, you know, that’s where, for example, influencers become really important. And I know this from some some of my own work. When I was in Australia, we did a campaign looking at addressing anti-social behavior through social media channels and digital channels. So this is, for example, you know, sharing photos of people without permission, cyberbullying, those kind of behaviors. And the way we were able to influence that and the way the campaign worked was, was we developed a hashtag which was specifically for use by teenagers themselves. It’s called XTO. Which stood for crossing a line. So it was a way for teenagers to call out unacceptable behavior online. And that was much more effective than the government going out and saying these are the acceptable behaviors, these unacceptable behaviors. The reality is, is that most teenagers do behave perfectly respectfully from between themselves and they know when a line has been crossed. They know when what is acceptable is when what is not acceptable. So it was simply about providing the tools to allow them to self-police that behavior rather than if the government had gone out and said, do do this, don’t do that, it would have just been ignored. And in fact, it probably would’ve made it more likely that they would have done the opposite of what we wanted.

David McRaney:    I suspect you are ready for a break, but I have good news. After this break we’ll be asking an expert in reducing anxiety, preventing panic and avoiding the negative impact of fear, how if you’re staying at home, you can reduce anxiety, avoid panic and mitigate the damaging effects of fear. In addition, we will talk about how to deal with loneliness and isolation and how to navigate romantic relationships in the time of Corona. After that, you will hear final thoughts from all the experts in this episode about how they are doing, all those things, and what they believe the overall takeaway should be from this whole discussion. All that after this commercial break.


David McRaney And now we return to our program.

My name is David McRaney, and this is the You Are Not So Smart Podcast.

When I interviewed the guests in this episode, all of them, every one, we spent about 15 minutes, sometimes longer, just commiserating. Connecting. Hanging out. Comparing notes, that sort of thing. And it just so happened that for me for a few of these interviews. My birthday was the day before or a few days before.

And the memory of it was still fresh on my mind. The emotions of it. Because my parents, they paid me a visit. They paid me a surprise visit for my birthday. I was here where I’m at right now, working on the previous episode. And I heard a knock at the door of my garage and there was my dad. Seventy two years old. You know big bushy beard, Vietnam vet hat. What we call round here, Sunday clothes like tucked in shirt. On the other side of the glass, the door, he was holding a bag of boiled peanuts. I don’t know if they have that where you are, but that’s very popular here in the south where I live. And it’s just a tradition. My family, my grandmother used to make boiled peanuts every Sunday. She had this big pressure cooker. And she made a lot and so people would go over there and we ate them. I guess it’s what would be similar if you don’t have this? Maybe chestnuts, roasted chestnuts or I don’t know, we eat it like popcorn. So they came to town just to give you those peanuts, my birthday present with a note on them saying that they love me and that their dog, Sissie also loves me, and I was so terrified because, you know, they’re in their 70s, they really shouldn’t have done that. And he hung the bag on the doorknob and we chatted for a minute through the glass. And then I talked to my mom who stayed in the car and I talked to her over the phone, but I could see her. And when they left I just stood there and I wept. And so with every guest in this episode, we just shared something like that before going into the podcast mode of asking and answering questions. And I just wanted to tell you that because I’ve noticed more and more that that’s happening in these professional interactions. And I don’t know if it will last, but right now at least with what I do, we’ve become more real. More human. Less performative. Something like that.

Richard Chataway:   Well, belated happy birthday.

David McRaney:    Thank you very much. Thank you very much. My parents even came by there in their 70s and I was like, please, no, don’t do this. Don’t come. Don’t come into town. But they only came to town just to surprise me. And it was very it was very heartwarming and very sad and very strange. And my dad talked to me from the other side of the glass, but my mom stayed in the car and she talked to me on the phone. So it very much felt like a prison scene, like I was on the phone looking through the glass. She was on the phone looking to her glass. And we just chatted for a minute. And then they got in their car and left. And I and I remember as they went away, I was like, wow, this is really real. This is, we’re really living through this.

Richard Chataway:   Yes. Yeah. Well, I had a similar experience earlier, actually, where unexpectedly my my wife’s parents drove over. They live about 50 miles away. And they sort of called and said, oh, we’re five minutes away. And my wife was like, what? What the hell are you doing? Why are you coming over? And they said, oh, we just want to drop off my wife’s birthday soon similarly. And they want to drop off some presents. And and and we had to do a similar thing. She said, you can’t come in the house. You have to sit outside in your car. They had to deposit things outside the car. And then we had to run out and collect them. And yeah, it was crazy. But, you know, we were waving at each other through two panes of glass and glass in the car and the glass of the house. So, yes, it’s a very strange time. I do wonder, you know, I guess, you know, this might be something to talk about, but what the long term impacts of that, what new norms, it’s going to create around social interactions and behavior and so on.

David McRaney:    That was Dr. Richard Chataway who spoke to us in the previous segment about persuasion. In this segment, we’re going to talk about those emotions, those feelings that we’re commiserating over. Anxiety, depression, isolation, loneliness, romantic feelings, all that kind of stuff. We’re going to talk about that in this segment. And then after the segment, you’re going to hear some final thoughts from everyone you’ve heard from so far. So to introduce this, let me say this one little mission statement thing. One of the best ways to fight COVID 19, is to fight ourselves. While doctors and medical scientists are fighting the virus at the level of chemistry, the social sciences are helping us to fight the behaviors that empower COVID 19 to do its worst. And it’s really important that we learn from this as we go through it and as we get through it, because we’re going to go through something like this again. And we have to deal with big problems that already exist, like climate change and the social sciences offer this to us, this ability to deal with these large scale problems that are bigger than our minds are able to handle in the ways that we’ve described in this episode. That’s why this episode has focused on what the social sciences have to offer in this moment when our selves can seem mysterious to ourselves.

Jud Brewer:   Where do I begin? You know, it’s really begin by starting, you know, how helping us understand how our minds work. You know, if we don’t understand how how our minds work, how possibly can we work with them? And so it has everything to offer from, you know, helping people understand how social contagion works to how we get addicted to the news, to, you know, how we can start to work with anxiety.

David McRaney:    And that is what we are about to do, work with anxiety with Dr. Jud Brewer.

Jud Brewer:   My name’s Dr. Jud Brewer. I’m an addiction psychiatrist and a neuroscientist. I specialize in anxiety and habit change.

David McRaney:    So let’s talk about that, starting with this question for Dr. Jud. What are some mental hygiene tips for all of us hunkered down, waiting this out, flattening the curve, talking to our parents through the glass for what’s going to feel like a long time and for what will be for most of us, the longest time we’ve ever had to do that?

Jud Brewer:  Yeah. So let’s. I think it’s helpful just to have a foundation around like two seconds on how, you know, how our survival brains work, how how fear works and how things get jacked out of control, because that actually is fed when somebody is in isolation and they’re not around people to kind of fact check them or or sanity check them. So that’s why I’m going to, I’m going to start here and then we’ll get to the specifics of your of your question. So I just want to say fear is a very basic survival mechanism that we all have. Right. And who was it, Roosevelt? That said, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. And one way I could twist that is to say, you know, when we start freaking out about freaking out or when we start freaking out about fear more specifically, that’s when we get into trouble. So fear helps us survive because we can learn what to avoid, you know, what danger to avoid in the future. But our you know, our survival brains actually started to, you know, after that evolved this neocortex, this new part of the brain, and in particular, the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in thinking and planning. So it’s important for us to be able to think and plan, but to think and plan, we need accurate information. Right now, we don’t have a lot of accurate information not only about the virus, but also about how we’re going to respond to this because, you know, in our lifetime, when did when did we have a really big pandemic? In the past, it was like a hundred years ago. So nobody’s alive from that. That can say, hey, this is you know, this is what we did. And it probably would be different now, our response would be. So nobody’s had had experience with pandemics before like this on this scale. So everybody’s trying to figure out what to do and trying to gather that information as quickly as possible. But without that information, fear plus uncertainty or lack of information leads to anxiety. And this is where the freaking out about fear is the problem. It’s not the fear itself. It’s the freaking out about the fear. We get anxious. And then when. So let’s say somebody is at home alone and they know they want to see what’s going on in the world. They go on the Internet and so on the Internet… The Internet’s a great place for spreading social contagion. The spread of emotion or spread of affect from one person to another. So you can walk into a room. And if people are all you know, if they’re all happy, you might be more likely to be more happy. If you walk in a room and everybody’s panicked, then you’re more likely to be panicked. Well, you don’t have to be, you know, within six feet of people to catch social contagion. That’s the problem with social contagion is you go on the Internet and you can somebody can sneeze on your brain from anywhere in the world. And the more you scroll, the more likely you are to catch it. So fear plus uncertainty leads to anxiety, anxiety going on plus social contagion, say on social media, it leads to panic. And that’s when our prefrontal cortex goes off line and we start buying up all the toilet paper in the grocery store.

David McRaney:    There are people who are saying, hey, you shouldn’t be freaking out right now. You’re freaking out. You’re blowing this out of proportion. And there are people on the other side who are saying, no, this is the time to blow this out of proportion, this is the time to over react. Just in case. Where are you on this? Because you study and give advice about anxiety, panic and fear. What are your thoughts on that?

Jud Brewer:  So I think we should be very precise with our terms in terms when we’re talking about these things. And I think that might help clarify. So on one hand, you know, if you take the camp that says, oh, we shouldn’t be you know, we shouldn’t be taking this seriously. I’m going to use that term in a precise way or in a specific way. And there’s another camp that says we should be taking that seriously. That’s very different than we should be freaking out.

David McRaney:    So I’ve never had a patient in my clinic come in and say, you know, Doc, I’m just not anxious enough. You know, I do so much better when I panic. You know, I can get my work done. I have better relationships. I can think clearly when I’m really panicked. You know, can you help me panic more? That’s not how our brains work. So what I would suggest is that I’ve never seen any benefit of panic or anxiety because our thinking brains are off line when we’re panicked and when we’re anxious. There’s lots of lots of research about that. But going to your two sides of the argument, you know, piece here, whether this is about should we be taking this seriously and that means thinking and planning, not freaking out. Does that help clarify? Because my position is no anxiety and panic, never help anybody, ever.

David McRaney:    What are some ways like straight-up actionable practical advice for how to be a better person alone with your thoughts, with social media right there at arm’s length available to you at any moment, you can get in bed at nine o’clock at night and say, tonight’s the night. I go to bed at 10:00 and instead you get on Twitter and freak out for three hours and then you wake up in the very first thing you do is turn into Picard and go damage report. And then you take out your phone and go, oh, oh, oh. I know it feels like, this is going to be a two part question. Question number one, that feels like it’s reducing my anxiety to do those things. Is that true? Question number one. Question number two is what, what is a good way to reduce anxiety for real based on your expertise in a time like this?

Jud Brewer:   Right. And those are related. So, you know, if we do the damage report, it really depends on how what our mental state is in that moment. So, you know, if you think of the old Star Trek, where there was Captain Kirk, you know, he’s like the emotional one. And then Mr. Spock, he was the highly logical captain. Right. So he he had no he was all prefrontal cortex, basically, the Vulcan version. So you can think of it that way is, you know, if we wake up and we do damage report in the morning, if we’re Mr. Spock, we’re going to respond rationally and do what needs to be done. OK, this happened. This happened, this happened. Let me plan for what I need to do based on that information. We’re getting information and we’re acting on it. If we’re Captain Kirk, we’re just cussing up and down. You know, that’s not that’s probably not going to help. And we’re not going to be able to use that damage report accurately. We’re actually just going to get more freaked out with every thing that we see, because, you know, there’s a lot of stuff happening right now. That’s that is freak-able if that’s a word.

David McRaney:    Wow. There’s a lot of stuff happening right now that is freak-able. Absolutely.

Jud Brewer:   So. So what can we do? That’s the important thing is not that. Hey, people, so people don’t stop listening now because you’re like, oh, my God, the world’s ending. And here’s what to do. All right. Don’t turn off the show now. Here’s what to do. We have to be able to get our prefrontal cortex back on line. So the first thing we have to do is, is to calm our nervous system so that we can use our nervous system as in use our prefrontal cortex. There’s some very simple ways to do this. Taking some deep breaths, especially some conscious breaths, you know, where we’re really bringing awareness to our breathing can literally help us calm our nervous system so it increases the parasympathetic tone, all of this stuff, there’s even some kind of box breathing that the Navy SEALs use where they count in a certain number of seconds and then hold it for a couple of seconds and count out.

David McRaney:    I’m just dropping in here to tell you what that box breathing technique is, because we didn’t cover it in the conversation. It is to exhale for four seconds, then inhale for four seconds. Hold it in for four seconds and then exhale for four seconds and repeat.

Jud Brewer:   So that’s one simple thing to help calm physiology. And you mentioned meditation. So my lab studies mindfulness training and clinical applications, in particular digital therapeutics, which is, you know, I think this world has just shifted into, you know, it’s been kicked in the pants to to start using digital therapeutics. Hopefully there will be an evidence base that follow a lot of these things soon. But my my lab’s been studying an app called Unwinding Anxiety to see if it can actually help people calm these, you know, not get caught up in these anxious habit loops. We just finished a study that was just just published or accepted for publication. I’m not sure that it’s out yet with anxious physicians. So we got a 57 percent reduction in clinically validated anxiety scores and anxious physicians within a couple of months of them using this app. Now, it was our first study, so we wanted to make sure that that was legit. So we did a second study. This was this is funded by the National Institutes of Mental Health. And we did a randomized controlled trial with people with generalized anxiety disorder who, you know, the stereotype is that they’re you know, they wake up and they’re anxious and they’re anxious until they go to bed. Anything is just makes things worse. It’s a really tough thing. So we did a study with with people with generalized anxiety disorder and got a 63 percent reduction in these clinically validated anxiety scores. And it was a it was against treatment as usual. So people did do a little bit better on seeing their doctors and all this stuff, but they only got the folks in the control group only got a 15 percent improvement. So there was a significant difference. And it turned out to be this. There’s this term number needed to treat. You may know this, but in case your listeners don’t. It’s basically a back of the envelope calculation you can do to see how good a treatment is. So, for example, with medications for anxiety, the number needed to treat is five point one five, which means you need to treat about five people, just over five people to see an effect in one person. With this app, with this unwanted anxiety app, the number needed to treat was 1.6. So if you’re going to play the treatment lottery, you want the ones with the low numbers because you’re more likely to win. So here, you know, what we did with this app was that we give people these very short trainings and short practices that basically boiled down to I think of it as like short moments many times. That’s how you form new habits. So we can we can give people these very short mindfulness practices that they can bring into their daily lives and at the same time learn how their minds work so they can learn to work with them and with, you know, with this package, they can actually, you know, they can actually significantly improve. Now, we also. I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help. We we we took some of the practices from that and just made this app called Breathe by Dr. Jud that’s free. People don’t even have to put in their e-mail address. So we’ll you know, it’s totally we’re just putting it out there to help people. And that takes like one of the core breathing exercises in that app that actually brings in some tactile and visual cues to help people kind of stay in the present moment. So if anybody wants to try that, it’s free on Android and iPhones, you know, have at it.

David McRaney:    Once again was the name of it?

Jud Brewer:   That’s Breathe by Dr. Jud. There are bunch of apps out there called Breathe. Don’t just download the first one you see, it’s the one that it’s got to be Breathe by doctor Jud, or maybe it should say like Mind Sciences or Claritas Mind Sciences. The other thing I would say is, well, this is going to be a little bit of a brain hack. So there’s this reward part of our brain that actually stores reward value. And, you know, the simple way that I think of this is, you know, it helps us make choices and if we’re given two choices, we’re going to pick based on which one is more rewarding. So if I am given a choice between broccoli and chocolate from a survival standpoint, chocolate’s more densely packed with calories. Hence, it tastes better. So my brains would be like, hey, chocolate. So given choices, our brains are going to pick based on how rewarding a behavior is. So here it’s really helpful to help us do… to pay attention, bring awareness to when we’re freaking out and look at the cause and effect relationship. So when I freak out, what do I get from this? Well, I feel exhausted, frazzled. I probably don’t help any of the relationships that I’m in in the house that I’m sequestered in with people. You know, it’s like all those things are not actually that rewarding. And that that updating of that information helping us see that really clearly opens up the door for what I call the BBO, the bigger, better offer. And there are lots of things we can do. I just put out a video on, you know, let’s let’s spread connection as the new infection. Right. So from with social contagion, we get freaked out. That doesn’t feel very good. You know, anxiety doesn’t feel very good, but it feels good to get a hug, for example. It feels good to connect with the people. And I actually got my cat to do a cameo on that video. So I I demonstrated, you know, cuddle with your pets. I would love to see as a silver lining to this that people go out and adopt cats and dogs and animals from animal shelters. Right. So they don’t carry as far as we know, they don’t carry coronavirus. They are very cuddly. You can sequester yourself with them. They probably like that if you spend time with them. So all of these things are helpful.

David McRaney:    That’s such a sceintist thing to say, “They probably like this. I have a hypothesis, and I have a high level of confidence that cats do enjoy being pet and dogs like snuggles. But I can’t commit 100 percent to that.”.

Jud Brewer:   Well, you know, it’s an empirical question that you could challenge your readers to do the research on and report back. And, you know, we…

David McRaney:    You are silvertongued. This is good. Yes, that’s good stuff. I challenge you, dear listener, to do your own research into this and give me a nibbet so I can have an evidence based approach to whether or not dogs and cats enjoy our company. A lot of people have asked this and you may have nothing to add to this because you say this is not my area of expertise, but I feel like you have to. You’re you’re a person who understands brains and this is a brain thing. Some people are either in a relationship that just started or they’re worried about the fact that they are already they were already experiencing loneliness and were searching for a special someone. And then this happened. What can you say to those people?

Jud Brewer:   I’d say be patient.

David McRaney:    Yeah, be patient. I my advice has been like, just go Victorian on it, man. Like like write a letter.

Jud Brewer:   In quill pen. Use a quill pen and write a letter. And there’s this thing called the mailbox and you might see it. They might look strange, these strange objects that are out in front of houses that have these little flags on them. Write that letter, get a thing called a stamp and put that stamp on the letter and it makes sure you have an address that’s more than an email. You can’t just put their email address on. Send a letter, right. Go, Victorian.

David McRaney:    Go, Victorian. That’ll be so good. Like that should be a hashtag #GoVictorian. The the… “Dearest Isabelle, my thoughts…As the blight crosses the land, my thoughts naturally turn to you and that morning.” Yeah. That’s that’s one way to go about it.

Jud Brewer:   “My fondness for you, it blazens!”

David McRaney:    Work on it. That’s the power of being able to work out your thoughts on paper. Your first draft. Do not use this.

Jud Brewer:   Yeah, well and I’ll just add to that. If you write that letter in a panic, it’s probably not going to go well.

David McRaney:    Yes. Yes, this is true.

Jud Brewer:   “Don’t leave me! Don’t leave!”

David McRaney:    Okay. I feel very good about that advice. And go, go Victorian is where we’re gonna go with that. Please forgive us. I mean, do you use that hashtag if you can. Hashtag. #GoVictorian. But yeah, we were just giddy to talk to someone, anybody during this really bizarre moment. But I also did ask that same question of Dr Amie Gordon. She gave fantastic advice.

David McRaney:    What can we be doing to make this less painful? Over the course of however many weeks this takes.

Amy M. Gordon:   So now you’re hitting, you know, my sweet spot with research. I really do… a lot of my research is on interpersonal relationships. And we have to recognize that we are very much social beings. We have this you know, they call our need to belong one of our basic needs. And so when we’re not getting that met, that does have consequences, especially for people who tend to have very social lives. So I think, again, one is just recognizing that if we can figure out where our discomfort is coming from. Right. And that some of that is that we’re used to being around other people and we aren’t so much anymore that can help but, and reaching out to people. Right. Video chatting, having phone calls, writing long letters as as they used to do before technology. I think all of that can help us maintain connection with others to help us get through. And the people I’ve seen doing that, it seems like it makes a difference. My daughters had virtual play dates and, you know, hearing her laugh with another kid her age has, I think, been really great for all of us. But also, I just want to point out, we have time now to also take care of ourselves. And so there’s sort of this big cycle between our psychological health and our physical health. So making sure we get enough sleep, making sure we exercise all of that can keep us in sort of a better mental state. Right. Exercise is great. One of the best ways, I think, to help treat depression and other problems like that. So not letting ourselves go in that way and using this, you know, unprecedented time of being at home and not having much else on your plate to the extent that you can to make sure you really do go to bed at night and get enough sleep, you’re not staying, you know, you can make your virtual chats at a reasonable hour and still get to bed on time. So I think all of that sort of self-care can make potentially a difference, too, because if we don’t let ourselves start to feel off in that way and we feel good physically, that that can help buffer some of the social stuff. There is some research showing that when people sleep better that they can sort of withstand sort of the negatives of social experiences better. So bringing all of that together, I think to the extent that we can and recognizing where we have control, we can control aspects of ourselves maybe a little more than the outside situation, and that can help us in many ways.

David McRaney:    What about, do you have any tips? Technologically speaking, for like I know I work from home and I don’t have kids. So it is very strange because I know to lower my anxiety and to increase my overall well-being I should reach out to friends and family and with all the technological tools available to me that can be done through a number of messaging services apps, social media sites or video chatting technology yet also yet also I’m trying to make things and do things and be a productive person as well. It’s a completely different work life balance. What are your thoughts on that?

Amy M. Gordon:   I don’t know if I can give you any great research based of it, as someone who’s worked from home regularly for many years, what I’ve done is set up a routine that sort of just very briefly blocks time. Right. I’m going to work in two hour chunks and then I take an hour break, maybe building in having a hour of social connection. We do know from research that making what they call it implementation intentions are really good. So sort of these if then or when then statement. So instead of saying, you know, I’m going to get exercise every day, that’s very vague and it’s easy to let that go by. But if you say, you know, when the clock hits 9:00 a.m., I’m going to put on my tennis shoes and I’m going to go for a walk. And you make a very specific not just intention, but how you’re going to implement that. That that can help. So if you say, you know, at 12:00 p.m. every day, I’m going to have lunch and call somebody and you sort of make these specific agreements with yourself. I think it’s a lot easier to keep those going and put concrete things in place that can help you achieve the goals that you want achieved during this time.

David McRaney:    I thought it would be nice to ask all the experts who contributed to this show to just share a final thought. Anything, anything they felt would be useful as we move forward into the unknown.

David McRaney Here is Dr. Joe Hanson.

Joe Hanson:   The first thing people should do is, I hope, stay calm and stay aware. We don’t want fear because I think fear sets off other parts of our cognition that can lead us to other mistakes. But a pandemic like this is global, but it’s also very local. And the people that that manage your public health systems where you live know best what is right for you, where you live. And that’s why it’s so important to not only listen to how this is playing out around the world and take heed of those warnings, but listen to the people who know locally where, if and how you should watch your symptoms and get tested, how and where you should and shouldn’t go based on the advice of of your of your local leaders. And hopefully those leaders are paying attention and taking this as seriously as the scientific community is. I really see that’s moving in that direction. It gives me hope. If if we can take really solid, quick and drastic action with a hopeful and optimistic lens that we’re looking through, I think we can get our lives back to some sense of normalcy faster than than the alternative.

David McRaney:    Richard Chataway.

Richard Chataway:   I think there’s a whole raft of new norms that are being created and the tools were there for us in a lot of cases. I had a experience myself where I organized a trivia night or pop quiz on the weekend with my friends via Skype. And the reality is I haven’t done a pop quiz with my friends for a number of years because we all live in very different places. In fact, some of the people who joined the quiz at the weekend were living in the US and Canada and Australia, who were friends who’ve obviously moved overseas, or people I met in the UK and then and then they moved back home. So, you know, the reality is, is that this is something we could have done before. And it was a great way to catch up with people and have fun with friends who who I wouldn’t ordinarily see. But it took the events of the coronavirus pandemic and outbreak for that to happen. And we’ve already agreed that we’re going to do it again next Saturday. And presumably every every weekend till we get bored of it. Or the pandemic ends. So I think, you know, that there’s a there’s a really interesting aspect to this, which is breaking habits and breaking our habit loops that we get into is often forced upon us by a change of circumstances or external external factors. And when that happens, that can create completely new norms.

David McRaney:    Dr. Julia Shaw.

Julia Shaw:   One thing that I feel like this pandemic has really helped the world with, I think, is that it has opened up some really important conversations about employment structures, frankly, employment structures and poverty. And I think that because of the sinkhole belief in a just world where we assume that good things happen to good people and of course, you always seem to basically always count yourself as a good person. And so I am a good person is a good thing should happen to me, which is also one of the reasons why when things don’t go our way, we feel like we know the universe is out to get us or there’s some other excuse. And it’s not really our fault because we deserve much better. But that also means that when we see a person who’s poor person who’s homeless, we might quickly jump to the conclusion that they deserve to be homeless and so kind of like with this, but in a slightly different way, we think say things like they’re lazy or they whatever. They’ve made bad life decisions. But what this pandemic is opening up as a conversation is that there’s lots of situations which you have absolutely no control over whatsoever in which you might be laid off, in which you might be under the poverty line, in which you might be living off of the state. And I think that has the potential to really revolutionize the empathy that we give to people who are living in poverty and are living in high risk, dangerous jobs right now, like cleaning. I mean, who would have thought that, you know, we already undervalue cleaners and now they’re putting themselves at risk to keep us safe and we still don’t pay them anything, really. And so I think it really gives us it should give us pause for thought that we can, on the other end of this, maybe build better structures and better support systems to protect those who are and to some extent always will not the same people. But there will always be people living in poverty and they deserve to be treated like human beings. And maybe this will help us do that.

David McRaney:    Dr. Amie M. Gordon.

Amy M. Gordon:   I we need to use this as a time to come together and recognize that this is an unprecedented situation in which the entire world. I mean, it’s basically like what I’ve always thought would happen if we had aliens invade. Right. Some outer enemy that is’nt us needing to fight against other humans. But it’s an unprecedented opportunity for the globe to sort of get it together and work together. And that’s something that I think particularly in our country is a problem in terms of divisiveness with political polarization at an all time high, and that it’s a time where recognizing that we are all human, we are all fallible, that we give each other the benefit of the doubt instead of laying blame, that the best thing we could do right now is say, OK, we’re in this situation. What behaviors do we need to enact to get out of it and to work together for a better future and to have sort of that perspective of how do we all come together as a team rather than as, you know, it’s it’s your fault or my fault, because the statistics on who people are willing to listen to and trust is so politically divided that it’s incredibly disheartening. And I think if we can use this as a time to get past that in whatever way we can, that that would have long term benefits.

David McRaney:   And Dr. Jud Brewer.

You know, I was doing what the first level of it, I guess, that we’re all trying to do by sharing information with our friends and family, putting stuff out on on social media to the broader audience that we may or may not have. That feels like doing something. And instead of just going into panic mode, instead of taking the the unavoidable fear that you’re going to experience and the avoidable anxiety that you’re going to experience instead of submitting to a… it felt very good for me to say, OK, I can contribute something here. I at least have an audience that I can deliver, can take experts and deliver them to that audience. I believe that everyone has some way to contribute meaningfully to this, to help in some way.

Jud Brewer:   And so may this, sorry to interrupt, but I was just inspired by what you just said may this may all of us come together and go through this pandemic together because we are actually stronger together, you know, divided we get conquered, together we prevail. Can we all come together as a world community and not only make it through this pandemic, which we are, it’s going to be you know, we’re going to some scars from it. But maybe maybe we can shift so much in our collective consciousness that we can’t go back to being jerks to each other, just at least not as much. That’s my hope. Right. So there’s this there’s this theory thaw, shift and refreeze. Right. And so some big event brings energy to the pond and leaf that’s frozen in the ice thaws and it can move in the pond. Right. The wind blows it or whatever. So may that wind of change be wind of wow it feels good to be connected and kind to each other and then may that freeze back in place when this pandemic is over in a different place in the pond so that we never go back. And, you know, because we were stuck in a really bad habit loop of beating each other up and being nasty each other and being divisive, you know, politics, everything before this thing happened. Let’s let’s hit that reset button on that. And remember that we’re all human and we’re all in this together. And let’s never go back, please. I hope I hope we can do a seismic shift where it’s impossible to go completely back to being assholes.

Links and Sources

Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – PatreonSoundcloud 

Julia Shaw’s Website

Julia Shaw’s Twitter

It’s Ok To Be Smart

Joe Hanson’s Twitter

Amie Gordon’s Website

Between You and Me

Jay Van Bavel’s Website

Jay Van Bavel’s Twitter

Richard Chataway’s Website