Submitted by Allison Allen
Well, I went away for just over a week, (not really away, it was a total staycation), and look what happened! Any lingering hope we may have had that the coronavirus would take a teeny weeny summer vacation and get off our cases was crushed like a bug. Or rather, BY a bug. Sigh. It just seems extra wrong, doesn’t it? Winter is made for hunkering down, but summer. Summer! Summer is custom made for happy gatherings, social mingling of all sorts. We get married in the summer. We go to ball games in the summer. We hang together at the beach. We stretch out. WE DO NOT HUNKER. This year, though, as we try to find ways to do these things, we are getting smacked with a big ol’ dose of virus-don’t-care reality.
We are also bumping into some of the ways our sneaky ol’ minds undermine our safety and good judgment. Social psychology has lots of cool concepts, two of them being the fundamental attribution error and downward social comparison. These both have their up and down sides, but they can really trip us up. I have noticed them both impacting my thinking and actions regarding this virus, so you may have as well. What do I mean?
The fundamental attribution error is our tendency to attribute our own actions to external factors, and the actions of others to internal factors. So for example “I am popping into the store four times this week because there is just so gosh darn much going on, my sister is moving, my mother needs groceries and oh well, what can you do (external factors), but you are running into the store four times in one week because you are a thoughtless, impulsive, socially irresponsible so and so.” See how that works? My choices are so justified!
Downward social comparison goes like this: “Did you see all I those horrible, no good, stupid college students packed onto the beaches in Florida on the news last night! What are they thinking! They are terrible and very very bad!” Now I have the most awesome buzz of self-righteousness going, and my decision to just dash into the store real quick with no mask doesn’t seem all that bad, at least not when I think of those terrible, no good college students. See how I did that? So the moral of the story is – social psychology is fun! And our brains are sneaky, and can make it hard for us to do the right thing, or more correctly, easier for us to do the wrong thing while feeling A-OK about it. Interesting, right? Maybe watch this week to see whether your mind is like my mind, and maybe catch these concepts in flight. And don’t let them lead you into trouble!
Dr. Allison Allen is our Chief Behavioral Health Officer.