Why disobedience in times of Covid-19

Author: Manu Steens

In this contribution I write my own opinion, not that of any organization

Context

Today I received an email from a colleague about fellow travelers on the train:

“It is really bad how few people in the train wear their masks correctly while they are still sitting close together on chairs / benches. What a difference with 2 weeks ago. ”

Not a coincidence

In itself this can of course be a coincidence that she is in a train wagon that is the exception. But the partygoers of June 20 in Brussels are no longer a coincidence. Are people able to deal with their regained freedom, or is there something else going on? Earlier, during the lock-down , there were also parties that gave crisis managers and police officers gray hair: the so-called (how can it be different?) Lock-down parties . This concerns people who deliberately ignore current advised behavior and consciously run risks. From now on, what I am going to write is rather speculative, because it should be investigated. So it is only a presumption.

Sensation Seeking

In my opinion, the party- goers are people who are looking for a form of arousal by consciously running a risk. They score high on the SSS: the Sensation Seeking Scale (Zuckerman). The question of how the communication of the target groups should be drawn up is then relevant. Is a split according to small kids-youth-adults-elderly enough, or should we add another dimension: sensation seekers and non-sensation seekers? The reason why I find this relevant is because of the idea that not every infected person infects the same number of other people. Perhaps there is a small group of superinfectants , and this group of sensation seekers may be part of it because of their reckless behavior. The question then is: what is known about these sensation seekers?

Two groups of sensation seekers

According to Stephen Lyng , Thomas Workman and GH Morris in their article “ Edgework and Risk Communication” there are roughly two groups of sensation seekers. There are those who voluntarily engage in risky behavior despite the risks they run, and those who do so precisely because of the risks to be run. The latter are called ‘edgeworkers’ in literature . The first group is often limited to passively run risks due to e.g. incorrect nutrition, disbelief in damage from drug use, driving without a seat belt and unsafe sexual behavior. The edgeworkers, on the other hand, are of a different kind. They go for the risk through, for example, sports or leisure experiences where they consciously risk death, a disability or serious physical injury or other outcomes with a high toll. Examples are sky-diving , mountaineering without ropes, sport flying, irresponsible fast racing on the road …

The reason why

The reason why they do this? There is more than one reason. For starters, they feel they have an innate talent for facing dangers, which they count as survival skills . As a result, they often also have the idea of ​​belonging to an elite. They also believe that their survival skill is not uniquely limited to their experience of a particular sport or relaxation. They believe their talent spans all possible dangers. After all, it is an innate quality. You either have that or you don’t. And they are not alone: ​​they are more often in an group (e.g. a sports club) of like-minded people where such behavior is encouraged. Their supporters therefore fully agree with them. Moreover, in their experience they sometimes have an “other world” experience, where an experience of seconds seems hours or vice versa. Or, for example, the phenomenon of car racers who get the idea that they have mental control over their vehicle, that they form a unit with it. Sometimes they lack words to tell the experience. Sometimes not. Their goal: “controlling the seemingly uncontrollable ”.

The cause why

The cause why they do this? Marx- Mead ‘s approach emphasizes social forces that stimulate the search for edgework opportunities. Causes are separations between people, contradictions and conflicts in institutionally based actions. These are things you can have with a lock-down and unclear measures. Also in a social environment, characterized by ‘alienated’ activities, but also in class conflicts, oversocialization , people look for a greater personal individuality in their institutionally defined lives. They are looking for issues in which challenges such as hyper-concentration, control options and survival skills are critical in continuing their ability to live. This contrasts sharply with the perfunctory behaviors of institutionally assigned roles and routines that seem impenetrable to the creative possibilities of the usual, more mundane social individual. The institutional but necessary measures in an pandemic, after a long time with a slow evolution of the pandemic, have a very disappointing effect on these people. The edgework opportunities bring back an enchantment to the social world by experiencing the ‘rush’. So further rationalizations and its disappointing effects mean that this target group will seek alternative experiences, with all the consequences that entails.

Adapted communication

A statement such as “have they learned nothing from the past two weeks” has no effect anymore, because it is another rationalization. Adapted communication is therefore imperative for these people. Perhaps one that works on the feeling rather than the ratio. And if the theory of superinfectants is correct, then this target group matters!

Knowing more? This idea sprang from reading Stephen Lyng , Thomas Workman and GH Morris in their article “Edge Work and Risk Communication” .

Manu Steens

Manu works at the Flemish Government in risk management and Business Continuity Management. On this website, he shares his own opinions regarding these and related fields.

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