Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Friday, May 29, 2020

Humans are complicated—do we need behavioral science to get through this?

Cathleen O'Grady
Ars Technica
Originally published 16 May 20

Here is an excerpt:

Leaning on the evidence

If humans didn’t insist on being quite so messily human, pandemic response would be much simpler. People would stay physically separated whenever possible; leaders would be proactive and responsive to evidence; our fight could be concentrated on the biomedical tools we so urgently need. The problem is that our maddening, imperfect humanity gets in the way at every turn, and getting around those imperfections demands that we understand the human behavior underlying them.

It's also clear that we need to understand the differences between groups of people to get a handle on the pandemic. Speculation has been rampant about how cultural differences might influence what sort of responses are palatable. And some groups are suffering disproportionately: death rates are higher among African-American and Latinx communities in the US, while a large analysis from the UK found that black, minority ethnic, and poorer people are at higher risk of death—our social inequalities, housing, transport, and food systems all play a role in shaping the crisis. We can’t extricate people and our complicated human behavior and society from the pandemic: they are one and the same.

In their paper, Van Bavel, Willer and their group of behavioral research proponents point to studies from fields like public health, sociology and psychology. They cover work on cultural differences, social inequality, mental health, and more, pulling out suggestions for how the research could be useful for policymakers and community leaders.

Those recommendations are pretty intuitive. For effective communications, it could be helpful to lean on sources that carry weight in different communities, like religious leaders, they suggest. And public health messaging that emphasizes protecting others—rather than fixating on just protecting oneself—tends to be persuasive, the proponents argue.

But not everyone is convinced that it would necessarily be a good idea to act on the recommendations. “Many of the topics surveyed are relevant,” write psychologist Hans IJzerman and a team of critics in their draft. The team's concern isn’t the relevance of the research; it’s how robust that research is. If there are critical flaws in the supporting data, then applying these lessons on a broad scale could be worse than useless—it could be actively harmful.

The info is here.