The psychology behind people acting like everything is normal again

With the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, have you noticed people acting like everything has gone completely back to ‘normal’? Or do you yourself get the feeling that COVID-19 is over? Despite knowing that it is definitely far from over, many of us have started to act like there is no longer a threat. Walking down the street now, you might see way more people than before and many of them not social distancing. We all know the pandemic isn’t over, so why do we act and feel this way?

One part of the answer to this could be that we are experiencing what psychologists refer to as ‘groupthink’. To put it simply, groupthink is where we end up acting like others without really thinking about whether we agree with what they’re doing or thinking. We do this because we want to ‘fit in’ with the majority and we look at how others are behaving for clues on how we should behave. Research has shown that it’s pretty powerful stuff. 

One famous series of studies in psychology known as the Asch conformity experiments, put a person in a room with seven other people (who were all part of the study). The person being tested thought that they were all there to complete a vision test, but really it was to see if that one person would change their answers based on what the group said. They were shown a line and then shown 3 other comparison lines and they had to pick which one matched the length of the first and say it out loud. The thing is, even when it was totally obvious that the rest of the group were wrong, about 75% of people still gave the wrong answer at least once, just because it's what everyone else was saying. 

It's a bit like when teenagers tell their parents that they did something just because someone else did it! 

Other research has found that where a situation is unclear, and people don’t know how to respond, they will go with what the majority is thinking. This is because people want to do the right thing, so they look to others for guidance on what that is. This might explain why so many people seem to be ignoring the rules about social distancing now. The more people that do it, the more it appears to be okay. 

Knowing about the power of 'groupthink' can help us to understand other people’s behaviour, as well as what impact it might be having on ours. Will this change the way you’ve been practicing social distancing?