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Instinct and Perceptions have helped lockdowns but there may be trouble ahead

Why have the world’s populations so easily submitted to lockdown/stay-at-home orders?

COVID-19 is a new and unknown threat. We have been bombarded with images of danger which have been triggering our basic instinct for survival. Our decision making is 90% driven by instincts, emotions and associations rather than logic & rationality. Fear only enhances our use of mental shortcuts. Our assessment of risk is based on perception, not hard data. Governments have been using language to “nudge” those heuristics and trigger our social instincts.

People’s instincts have helped governments so far, but there are “bear traps” ahead:

  • Familiarity breeds contempt. People will stop supporting lockdown measures as the “fear” related heuristics wear off. The social instincts to fight the disease will evolve into the need to socialise and break social distancing rules.

  • Self-survival. As the economic impacts kick in, more people will be driven by their own “selfish” need to provide and survive.

  • Post-hard lockdown buy-in. Managing the pandemic with data-driven complex measures and trade-offs will be required. Changing the perceptions of risk that they have reinforced will be very difficult.



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