Categories
Opinion

The Contexts of Everyday Sadism

Sadism can be described as the psychological need to inflict harm on another human being, and it often manifests in the form of cruel actions. It is a subclinical form of malignant narcissism (Buckels et al., 2013). Many people have sadistic thoughts, and indeed, anger can at times elicit such thoughts; yet, sadists are not satisfied with having fantasies or thoughts where they indulge in the idea of harming others, they actually take actions where they consciously inflict such harm on other human beings. There are telltale signatures that can help you spot a sadistic offender. According to Reale et al.  (2017, p. 4) ‘the most important indicators of sadism are (a) that the offender is sexually aroused by sadistic acts, (b) the offender exercises power/control/domination over the victim, (c) the offender humiliates and/or degrades the victim, (d) the offender tortures the victim or engages in acts of cruelty, and (e) the offender mutilates sexual parts of the victim’s body’. Nevertheless, more subtle forms of sadism occur in everyday life and these do not always involve physical violence. Pfattheicher et al. (2017, p. 338) state that ‘the very essence of sadism is that sadists are motivated to dominate and to control other individuals by harming them because they experience pleasure through their cruelty […], for instance when killing bugs or harming an innocent person’. 

Some researchers believe that the tenet of sadism is disempowering and controlling the victim, rather than the infliction of pain per se. Either way, sadism is harmful and those who engage in it tend to get a boost out of the harm and helplessness they are causing. For instance, Debardeleben in Hazelwood and Michaud (2001, p. 88) cited and quoted in Luyn  (2007, p. 21) state: the wish to inflict pain on others is not the essence of sadism. The central impulse is to have complete mastery over another person, to make him or her a helpless object of our will. . . . And the most radical aim is to make her suffer. Since there is no greater power over another person than that of inflicting pain on her. To force her to undergo suffering without her being able to defend herself. The pleasure in the complete domination over another person is the very essence of the sadistic drive’. Sadism can happen in multidisciplinary settings, from politics to healthcare, and education; as well as in personal life. Sadism can happen through actions, policies, decisions, and narratives; and it can be pervasive, problematic and persistent. Sadism can be internalised by the superego (Freud, 1923) quo when it is culturally hypernormalised and exhibited by authority figures.  Now, one might wonder, is sadism de facto or is it de jure? That is, does sadism encompass actions which violate the law of a jurisdiction (de facto), or does it also involve actions that are perfectly legal (de jure)? The answer is: both. Do people in general struggle to understand sadism because of the same reasons they struggle to understand the definition of what constitutes torture? Nowadays, someone can correctly feel like they are being tortured, but de facto sadists will argue “Oh, it is not torture!”. Well, if it involves the infliction of mental, emotional, psychological, or physical harm on another human being; then yes, it is legally correct to say that it is torture. Moreover, psychologically speaking, it is also correct to say that if someone consciously and deliberately inflicts harm on another human being, then indeed it is sadistic cruelty. Whether consciously or unconsciously, intentional or unintentional, everyday sadism can harm anyone, so it is important to have awareness about how to protect yourself in these unprecedented times. 

But how can we clarify intent? Well, de jure sadism occurs when the state creates regulations which are harmful to people and does not fulfil its substantive and procedural obligations to prevent harm. For instance, people who suffer from pituitary brain tumours often develop a very low stress tolerance (i.e. a high propensity for adrenal fatigue). If the jurisdiction creates and designs institutional mechanisms which are based on the induction of stress contingencies, then it can be said that the jurisdiction has indeed created a sadistic environment that induces medico-legal injury on these people. This happens with many different types of minority groups. The point that is most concerning about all this is that in the institutional bias of ‘some people need to be stressed out in order to develop X or Y ability’ or ‘stress can be positive and productive’ is ultimately where the sadistic factor is really found. I always think: ‘Do women need rape?’ The answer of course, quickly becomes: ‘No, women do not need rape!’; so the next question is: ‘Do people need obstacles, adrenal fatigue, degradation, and all other forms of inhumane treatment in order to learn?’, the answer should equally be: ‘No, because that is a breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights and of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and it is sadistically cruel’. But, why is it so difficult for de jure decision-makers to understand this basic principle? De jure sadism also occurs when de facto sadism is not investigated adequately, nor processed through the legal system, or when there are no substantive and procedural mechanisms for its prevention.


No wonder there is a lot of de facto sadism. If a human being’s conscience is in a way partially constructed by the social and legislative norms of the world around them, and if such a status quo has sadistic protocols; then it can be expected that people in general will also develop attitudes, and show manifestations of such sadistic tendencies which are of course internalised and culturally inherited. Now, the worst type of experienced sadism is when someone has both, de jure and de facto sadists around them and against them. This happens to minority groups of all types, not just to people with pituitary adenomas. The Hostile Environment Policies 2014-2016 were a great example of state-led cultural and attitudinal sadism. Webber (2019, p. 77) states: In the UK, these policies are collectively known as the “hostile environment”, policies which have the avowed aim of making life impossible for migrants and refugees who do not have permission to live in the UK, and which remove such migrants from the rights to housing, health, livelihood and a decent standard of living, liberty, freedom of assembly and association, family and private life, physical and moral integrity, freedom from inhuman or degrading treatment, and in the final analysis the right to human dignity and to life’. Indeed, the UK revealed at that point in time that it was culturally acceptable to hate immigrants; and in the legal industry you and I both know that justice is about what is correct or incorrect according to the principles which guide morals, behaviours, and so on. So it is clear that the UK does not want all those immigrants walking in the streets. It is clear that the world is filled with inequalities which create all types of problems forcing people to escape their homes and visit their international neighbours asking for first aid. So what can be done in order to balance all this? Abusing, torturing, and humiliating the disadvantaged is not the answer though. Furthermore, having our prime minister incorrectly call the legal human right of claiming asylum ‘illegal’ (Grierson and Sabbagh, 2020) is an attack against truth, and an offence against the international community. There is no such a thing as an illegal asylum seeker. I suppose the UK might have to create an asylum office in every country so people can apply for asylum without having to risk their lives crossing the channels. That would be a procedural solution to the concern of the contingencies of asylum travel. An asylum embassy, consulate, or something of the sort. Does it exist? No, because visas—  like democracy—  are business.  Asylum, however,  is the state of the global human condition; so what, Elon Musk can’t invade Mars fast enough?

References

Buckels, E. E., Jones, D. N. and Paulhus, D. L. (2013) ‘Behavioral Confirmation of Everyday Sadism’, Psychological Science, Los Angeles, SAGE Publications, 24(11), pp. 2201–2209 [Online]. Available at https://pmt-eu.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/f/13ueeno/TN_cdi_crossref_primary_10_1177_0956797613490749 (Accessed 11 August 2020).

Freud, S. (1923) ‘The Ego and the Id’ [Online]. Available at https://www.sigmundfreud.net/the-ego-and-the-id-pdf-ebook.jsp (accessed 14 November 2021). 

Grierson, J. and Sabbagh, D. (2020) ‘Boris Johnson accused of scapegoating migrants over Channel comments’, The Guardian, 10 August [Online]. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/aug/10/boris-johnson-hints-at-law-change-to-deport-migrants-who-cross-channel (Accessed 11 August 2020). 

Luyn, J. B., Akhtar, S. and Livesley, W. J. (2007) Severe personality disorders, Cambridge, New York, Cambridge University Press [Online]. Available at https://pmt-eu.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/f/h21g24/44OPN_ALMA_DS5189773850002316 (Accessed 28 July 2019). 

Pfattheicher, S., Keller, J. and Knezevic, G. (2017) ‘Sadism, the Intuitive System, and Antisocial Punishment in the Public Goods Game’, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications, 43(3), pp. 337–346 [Online]. Available at https://pmt-eu.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/f/gvehrt/TN_sage_s10_1177_0146167216684134 (Accessed 26 July 2019). 


Reale, K., Beauregard, E. and Martineau, M. (2017) ‘Is Investigative Awareness a Distinctive Feature of Sexual Sadism?’, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, pp. 1-18 [Online]. Available at https://pmt-eu.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/f/gvehrt/TN_medline29294688 (Accessed 26 July 2019).

Categories
Journalism

Women Who Are Mad

De facto and de jure social injustices are an expression of the id quo. These impulses have a detrimental effect on women’s daily lives, making it a lot more difficult for them to enjoy their human rights. This document has shared data particles of knowledge about current injustices occurring to ‘mad’ and ‘intersectional’ women in the UK, the psychological impact of these injustices (e.g. Borderline Personality Disorder), and the legal framework of international law, which the UK is subject to. De jure and de facto injustices exacerbate mental health problems, and lead to the introjection of maladaptive behaviours, and can corrupt the individual superego. Furthermore, UN Women (2016) recommends that  all countries take on board the Istanbul Convention, and the UK is a country member of the UN Security Council. The UK’s Domestic Abuse Act 2021 does not fully cover all the criteria necessary for the prevention and protection of women’s rights, as well as the prosecution of perpetrators of violence against women. Similarly, the Equality Act 2010 only protects some of the many characteristics that elicit discrimination against human beings, and the word ‘dignity’ does not appear once in the Human Rights Act 1998. This seemingly innocuous semantic exception is a malpraxis. All these technical legislative failures lead to very costly consequences for the least advantaged in the status quo. The facts and figures have shown that women in the mental health sector are the most affected group, out of which patients with BPD tend to struggle the most with daily attitudinal obstacles, intersectional discrimination, and de facto impediments.

Film Review: We Are Monster (2014)

This film directed by Antony Petrou is rich in forensic psychological detail. It really shows the dark side of the criminal justice system (CJS). Based on a true story, We are Monster tells the story of the murder of Zahid Mubarek by Robert Stewart.

Psychoanalytic film theory: It is clear that many of the attitudes Stewart displayed were inherited from his father’s personality. In other words, the film captures the phenomenon of introjection, a defence mechanism which consists of internalising and adopting personality traits and/or behaviour of other people, especially authority figures. The film shows Stewart recalling a memory of his father arguing with his mother about her having been sexually involved with a person of a darker skin. From this scene it is clear that his father had an extremist and antisocial attitude towards people of different skin colours, and he is heard using racial slur. Consequently, Stewart came to associate a darker skin with ‘filth’ and ‘evil’, having internalised his father’s attitudes. The film constantly shows him having a conversation with a hallucination of himself similar to the way his father used to speak in general. In psychoanalytical terms, it could be said that the film shows Stewart’s ID talking to him all the time. The ego or self is shown to negotiate with this hallucination, and to be led and manipulated towards specific behaviours. It is difficult to say whether the introjection was accompanied by reaction formation, because it is difficult to differentiate Stewart’s criminogenic attitudes and/or actions from those of his father. The film portrays his childhood as self-less, cold, and full of trauma. Therefore, it is unclear whether these behaviours constitute an exploration of his father’s ego through a primary regression to a narcissistic state in which the superego is formed based on values learned from the world; or whether it is his self that has become established as a personality (i.e. whether this would be his behaviour if he was not experiencing a psychotic break). The film captures his schizophrenic crisis quite well. It allows the viewer to enter the criminal mind from thought to action. Petrou manages to illustrate the criminal insanity perspective by placing emphasis on the hallucination as the drive towards criminogenic activity.

Political anchors: This case was a huge scandal in the year 2000 and many inquiries were launched at Feltham Young Offender Institution in order to investigate the steps the government of the UK could have taken in order to prevent this tragedy, and what steps could be taken to prevent it from ever happening again. It was concluded that legally, there was much more the system could have done to prevent this re-offending, and the death of Zahid Mubarek. This case was a scandal when it occurred, and it is perceived as a double-edged cumulative failure.

Categories
Journalism

Book Review: Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work

This is a book I had been reading for a while, and which I have been sharing quotes about. Hare and Babiak’s (2006) Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work attempts to draw the similarities between clinical psychopathy, corporate psychopathy, and the general dark side of business. It also delves on topics such as personal relationships, and every day business contexts. It speaks to both, those who see themselves as psychopathic, and those who do not. It also speaks to victims of narcissistic relationships who have been played by callous and unemotional people, and brings the context back to the faculty of social sciences:

‘Indeed, this diffusion of responsibility is big business; witness the large number of psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and counsellors ready and eager to explain or exculpate criminal behaviour. This is good for criminals in general and for psychopaths in particular’.

Robert D. Hare & Paul Babiak (2006, p. 277)

Indeed, forensic psychology is a science that begins its investigative journey with the question: ‘what is a psychopath?’, and this is why books such as The Mask of Sanity, Without Conscience, and Snakes in Suits are relevant to wrapping up a general view about the label; and it is precisely because the label ‘psychopath’ is so controversial and so sensationalised that real experts on the topic, or students of the discipline feel like forensic psychology can be quite the depressing career. I mean, what to do with all this understanding about how psychopathy works when mainstream society finds researching the topic an insult itself? In regards to this, Hare and Babiak (2006, p. 278) state:

‘Perhaps this is why so many of those in the helping professions find themselves in big trouble by trying to help a psychopath’.

Robert D. Hare & Paul Babiak (2006, p. 278)

There are many troubles that can arise from trying to understand psychopathy. First of all, generally speaking, people perceive research which is focused on attempting to comprehend callous or unemotional behaviour as a dark behaviour itself. Second, many people think that when forensic psychologists speak of psychopathy as a scale, the majority of people are exempt from it. Third, most people associate the label ‘psychopathy‘ with criminal behaviour. However, this is not always the case. Hare and Babiak (2006) truly manage to capture this idea that psychopathy can happen in everyday contexts. Moreover, the book provides- so to say- a behavioural anatomy of traits associated with the label, and these traits (according to the authors) are very commonly found in business and organisational settings; as well as corporations. The title of the book (in my opinion) challenges the criminal stereotype often associated with the label, and although the authors do include such a behaviour too; it becomes clear that what is deemed as psychopathic can also appear dressed in a suit with a tie; an allusion to how seemingly ‘normal’ people can be psychopathic or have psychopathic traits.

Critical Note

I think Hare and Babiak (2006) risk sensationalising and stigmatising what is considered helping, validating, or empathic behaviour. Some parts of the book also paint a picture of a therapist’s approach as threatening:

‘The psychopath will try to convince you that he or she accepts you as you are’.

Robert D. Hare & Paul Babiak (2006, p. 275)

Yet, the book also states:

‘Some avoid talking to psychologists because they fear they will learn something uncomfortable about themselves. Psychopaths are well aware of these concerns and capitalize on them.

Robert D. Hare & Paul Babiak (2006, p. 271)

Considering that validating behaviour is constructed as potentially psychopathic, it is no wonder that some avoid therapy! The demonisation of helping behaviour is precisely what leads people to become paranoid when someone takes a collectivist approach to social interaction. In reverse, it can also lead to people not helping in order to avoid risking impression management. This can be problematic.

Categories
Journal Opinion Science

Authoritarianism in Mental Health Settings

When I began this journey in Forensic Psychology, I did not expect to learn as much as I have. The main tenet of this career consists in understanding psychopathy, and psychopathology.

It does make me question authoritarianism and the ways in which it can manifest. For instance, Milgram and Adorno et al. studied the psychology of obedience under pressure, and how following orders led to the holocaust. An aspect that has been questioned little is how scarcity or the fear of scarcity has led to similar phenomena due to how people have been conditioned to see money as an enabler of everyday behaviour. For instance, when Milgram conducted his obedience experiments during the 60s, he monetarily rewarded his participants for taking part in the studies. Modern psychologists have attempted to re-examine the dynamics at Yale’s laboratory and what might have led the participants to show that they were capable of being sadistic under such conditions. An example is Gibson’s (2013) work which meticulously examines the prods given by the experimenter. In a way, Gibson seeked to understand how the orders and requests given by the authority figure contributed to the decision-making processes of the participants. However, I have not come across much research highlighting the role of the monetary incentive in everyday behaviour; or how being given a monetary incentive places a subconscious obligation on individuals to comply with requests, even if such requests at times make them feel uncomfortable.

The c/s/x movement, also known as ‘the psychiatric survivors movement‘ (Wikipedia, n.d.) explores how a large number of individuals report feeling or having felt dehumanised by the mental health system. For the unstigmatised person, it is often more common to assume that all these people expressing dissatisfaction with the system are crazy, than to understand the nature of what it means to respect a person’s dignity and human rights. It is quite a complex situation, because it is unclear what reinforces and keeps some mental health settings from actively listening to their patients’ concerns.

According to Turner (2015), signal detection theory (SDT) “describes processes whereby information that is important to the perceiver (known as the ‘signal’) is distinguished from other information that is unimportant and potentially distracting (known as the ‘noise’)”. It is my hypothesis that some of the inherently dehumanising behaviours occurring in the mental health system happen as a result of the hyper-normalisation of object-relations with patients. As I mentioned on my post Investigating the neuropsychopathology of prejudice‘, people can at times perceive those with stereotyped and stigmatised characteristics as non-human objects. This would of course increase the chance of mental health settings staff processing signals coming from clients as background noise, rather than as worth-listening-to human signals. Such established conscious and unconscious behaviours leading to the dehumanisation of many clients are reinforced through monetary incentives, and through an intragroup, mob-like co-validation of such unconscious biases. Like Eichmann, many live their lives constantly affirming to themselves that they were just following procedures and orders, or just doing their job; and therefore they believe it is not their responsibility to reflect on how clients are impacted by this. But the signals coming from mental health patients often stand in stark contrast to the common belief that these dehumanising, and at times non-empathic methods are appropriate, or even de facto acceptable.

I do think everyone deserves to be paid for their labour, and that having access to a basic form of income is an important foundation in any society; and I also think that mental health settings need to be encouraged or trained appropriately to detect clients’ signals as more than just background noise (i.e. as more than non-human objects signals) in order to reduce risk outcomes. The situation is problematic, persistent, and pervasive with these manifestations of authoritarianism in mental health settings. It would indeed be arrogant to assume that all the patients/clients expressing dissatisfaction with the service are wrong, or to culturally pathologise reasonable dissent. It would also be irresponsible and de jure unacceptable to fail to take steps towards alleviating feelings of ‘being dehumanised’ in civil society, especially if such feelings of dehumanisation have the potential to lead to never events, such as suicide.

References

Gibson, S. (2013) ‘Milgram’s obedience experiments: A rhetorical analysis’, British Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 52, York, The British Psychological Society/York University, pp. 290-309 [Online]. Available at https://pmt-eu.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/f/gvehrt/TN_cdi_gale_infotracacademiconefile_A332152211 (accessed 11 October 2020).

Turner, J. (2015) ‘Making sense of the world’, in Turner, J. and Barker, M. J. (eds) Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 7-45.

Wikipedia (n.d.) ‘Psychiatric survivors movement’ [Online]. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychiatric_survivors_movement (accessed 11 October 2020).

Categories
Forensic Psychology Science

Zimbardo (1973) Took Ecological Validity Far Too Seriously

Psychology as a science employs the experimental scientific method when trying to determine the cause and effect of everyday phenomena. It is believed that validity (when a study actually measures what it aims to measure) and reliability (when an experiment can be replicated, and the results corroborated therefore) are essential components of theoretical foundations. Ecological validity is a term used to describe the extent to which laboratory experiments can mimic natural conditions (Turner, 2019).

For instance, if a psychologist is trying to determine the effects of crime on mental health, an experiment would have to be conducted in order to test these  variables; nevertheless, some aspects of crime scene and court settings are impossible to test due to the fatal, or extremely damaging nature of such situations. Consequently, many experimental forensic psychological hypotheses cannot be taken outside the laboratory, nor can these be tested in natural conditions; and this is why mock-studies are conducted in order to understand the processes involved in case law, but these are considered to have very low ecological validity. A good example of a mock forensic psychology experiment gone wrong is Zimbardo’s (1973) Stanford Prison Experiment as cited in Eysenck (2000), which was extremely traumatic for the participants, as severe psychological damage was imposed on them.

Half of the participants took the role of prisoners, and the other half took the job of prison guards. The reason why mock studies are conducted is to make sure that no harm is done to participants; yet, this experiment went beyond the scope of mock studies and some of those playing the prisoners could no longer differentiate whether the experiment was real or not. Nowadays this type of experiment would not be allowed by an ethics committee due to its high level of ecological validity. The way in which guards abused the power and authority given to them was atrocious, and the overall experiment was detrimental to every single participant in each category.

Eysenck (2000, p. 568-569) stated: “Violence and rebellion broke out within two days […] One of the prisoners showed such severe symptoms of emotional disturbance (disorganised thinking, uncontrollable crying, and screaming) that he had to be released after only one day”. Furthermore, Zimbardo was harshly criticised for having failed to protect the physical and mental health of all parties involved. What makes a experiment a mock-study is the fact that prisoners usually know the reason why they are imprisoned; whereas Zimbardo’s study added an extra-factor by misleading them into thinking they were imprisoned for real.

Overall, Zimbardo’s (1973) experiment was very much ecologically valid and consistent with miscarriages of justice, such as when a person is innocent and yet is sent to prison, what can be imagined to be a nightmare of confusion, uncertainty, fear, and injustice. 

References

Eysenck, M. W. (2000) Psychology: A Student’s Handbook, East Sussex, Psychology Press Ltd, pp. 568-569, 789. 

Turner, J. (2019) ‘5 Focus on methods: ecological validity’, DD210-19J Week 18: Making sense of the world, The Open University [Online]. Available at https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=1467730&section=5 (Accessed 17 March 2020). 

Categories
Journalism Videos

Psychological Survival Through the Coronavirus Pandemic

This is a short video answering some questions in relation to how to cope with the intensity of the coronavirus pandemic by focusing on psychological survival and wellbeing at home.

Categories
Journalism Science

COVID-19: Situation Report, Administrative Challenges, and What Psychologists can do to Help the Crisis

UK-specific numbers

As of 10 April 2020:

CONFIRMED CASES: 73,758

PATIENTS DISCHARGED: 344

PATIENTS WHO DIED: 8,958

Worldometers (2020)

Are the numbers to be trusted?

There is a certain ‘mystery’ with the numbers. For instance, the GOV.UK’s (2020a) dashboard has not been updating the recovery section of its spreadsheet since the 22nd March. This has led to much confusion, and many people are suspicious of the numbers being provided. For instance, the media (Merrick, 2020) announced that health secretary Matt Hancock tested positive for coronavirus on the 27th March, 2020. Then on the 2nd April, 2020 he was back to work (Matt Hancock gives first coronavirus briefing since coming out of isolation, 2020) and was looking healthy. Nevertheless, the historic record spreadsheet did not register his recovery, indicating that maybe only those admitted to hospital are being registered in the records.

Another odd discrepancy is the fact that even though Worldometers (2020) updated for the first time this month the number of recovered patients yesterday to 344, the historic record document mentioned above- which is available on the GOV.UK’s (2020a) dashboard- continues to show 135 as the number of recoveries. This is worrisome as it gives an impression of misinformation and it elicits uncertainty. No wonder many people are having a gut feeling of ‘deception’ at the hands of the GOV.

What is the government’s plan?

As of the date of this writing, the GOV.UK’s (2020b) coronavirus action plan is full of misinformation and inaccuracies. I wrote to the Department of Health & Social Care (GOV.UK, 2020c) on the 1st April in order to communicate my concerns in regards to their published document and to request more frequent reviews of it. Nevertheless, nothing has been done about it, and the file continues to create feelings of confusion and uncertainty. Here you can download the analysis I conducted. You will be able to understand the discrepancies better after reading it.

What is the WHO saying?

I attended the World Health Organization’s (2020) press briefing yesterday (10th April). Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General stated: “When health workers are at risk, we are all at risk”. There were many important calls to action, such as ensuring that medical staff are able to have adequate rest periods instead of long, exploitative shifts; the development of an immune response; and the clarification of the severity of the disease. For instance, so far we have heard about patients who are in mild, and critical conditions. It was mentioned in the conference that an explanation of the moderate condition would be helpful, as there are confirmed cases of pneumonia which have not required hospitalization.

Another important point discussed was that the death of health workers has become a ‘tragic’ stimulus to action. The health environment was spoken about as a double-edged sword. It was also raised that personal protective equipment (PPE) is therefore a must have in hospitals in order to reduce the exposure of health workers to infectious hazards. This reminds us of the importance of staying at home and protecting the NHS. Furthermore, it was also suggested that psychosocial support for front-line and health workers should be made readily available, and reasonable adjustments should also be made by administrative staff in order to prevent doctors and nurses from developing fatigue as a result of extremely long shifts.

What can psychologists do to help the coronavirus crisis?

The coronavirus (COVID-2019) impacts on different people in different ways. Psychologically speaking, this requires an ongoing decision-making process based on the likelihood of catching the virus, and the perceived severity of the consequences.

“The barriers component may comprise both physical limitations on performing a behaviour (e.g. expense) and psychological costs associated with its performance (e.g. distress)”.

Abraham and Sheeran (1996, p. 33)

The outbreak is by all means a stress-generative situation. Exploring the psychopathology of the coronavirus pandemic, such as the negative and positive symptoms it causes (e.g. confusion, neurosis, and psychosis) would help both, professionals and students to feel more efficient in their preparedness for what is to come next. For example, the concept of normal distribution and the curve as illustrated by The Visual and Data Journalism Team (2020) would help people understand what is meant by “the peak” of the outbreak that so many sources are expecting and talking about.

Psychologists are also encouraged to help people understand the serious challenge at hand, and the levels of vulnerability in individual differences. Moreover, it would also be helpful to stimulate the GOV so they respond quicker without the need for the tragic stimulus of death explained above. Furthermore, exploring the cycle of panic and neglect that manifests as response to the threat would help soothe emotionally vulnerable human beings. Advice about how to strengthen the system is welcome. When it comes to forensic psychologists, it would be useful to elucidate how data formulates policy, and why it is important to have accurate data in order to prevent confusion at subnational levels, including criminal justice settings.

How can I check the coronavirus numbers for myself?

There are two ways you can check the coronavirus statistics. For global numbers go to Worldometers.info/coronavirus.

For UK-specific numbers:

  1. Go to the GOV.UK’s (2020a) Dashboard.
  2. Click on the ‘About’ tab at the bottom of the page.
  3. Click on the ‘Access historic data from the dashboard (xlsx)’ link.
  4. Save the file on your device.
  5. Open the file with a spreadsheet software such as Google Sheets (n.d.), Microsoft Office Excel (n.d.), or LibreOffice Calc (n.d.).

Please note that GOV staff have neglected the recovery section in the official spreadsheet since 22nd March, 2020. If you are concerned about the numbers, please contact the Department of Health & Social Care on https://contactus.dhsc.gov.uk/ and explain to them your concerns.

References

Abraham, C. and Sheeran, P. (1996) ‘The health belief model’, in Conner, M. and Norman, P. (eds) Predicting Health Behaviour, Buckingham, Open University Press, pp. 23-61.

Google (n.d.) ‘Google Sheets’ [Online]. Available at https://www.google.co.uk/sheets/about/ (Accessed 11 April 2020).

GOV.UK (2020a) ‘Total UK COVID-19 cases’, 4th April [Online]. Available at https://www.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/ae5dda8f86814ae99dde905d2a9070ae (Accessed 11 April 2020).

GOV.UK (2020b) ‘Coronavirus action plan: a guide to what you can expect across the UK’, 3 March [Online]. Available at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/869827/Coronavirus_action_plan_-_a_guide_to_what_you_can_expect_across_the_UK.pdf (Accessed 11 April 2020).

GOV.UK (2020c) ‘Department of Health & Social Care’ [Online]. Available at https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-of-health-and-social-care (Accessed 11 April 2020).

LibreOffice (n.d.) ‘Calc’ [Online]. Available at https://www.libreoffice.org/discover/calc/ (Accessed 11 April 2020).

Matt Hancock gives first coronavirus briefing since coming out of isolation (2020), Youtube video, added by The Sun [Online]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrF6Z8s5dmw (Accessed 10 April 2020).

Merrick, R. (2020) ‘Coronavirus: Health secretary Matt Hancock tests positive’, The Independent, 27 March [Online]. Available at https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/coronavirus-matt-hancock-boris-johnson-test-positive-covid-19-symptoms-a9430031.html (Accessed 10 April 2020).

Microsoft (n.d.) ‘Office Excel’ [Online]. Available at https://products.office.com/en-gb/excel (Accessed 11 April 2020).

The Visual and Data Journalism Team (2020) ‘Coronavirus pandemic: tracking the global outbreak’, BBC News, 10 April [Online]. Available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-51235105 (Accessed 11 April 2020).

World Health Organization (2020) ‘Coronavirus Disease (COVID-2019) press briefings’ [Online]. Available at  https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/media-resources/press-briefings (Accessed 10 April 2020).

World Health Organization (n.d.) ‘Biography of Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General’ [Online]. Available at https://www.who.int/antimicrobial-resistance/interagency-coordination-group/dg_who_bio/en/ (Accessed 11 April 2020).

Worldometers (2020) ‘COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic’ [Online]. Available at https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/ (Accessed 11 April 2020).

Categories
Journalism Science

Coronavirus (COVID-19): Understanding the New Status Quo, Following Governmental Advice, and Interpreting the Numbers

We have heard the advice, but how can we interpret the information? Why follow the lockdown protocols? This article will clarify the coronavirus’ status quo.

UK-specific numbers:

CONFIRMED CASES: 47,806.

PATIENTS DISCHARGED: 135.

PATIENTS WHO DIED: 4,934.

(GOV.UK, 2020b)

What’s the difference between the coronavirus and COVID-19?

The coronavirus is what people catch, and the COVID-19 is the respiratory disease that can develop. A good analogy for understanding the differences between the two terms is HIV and AIDS. Whilst not all people who test positive for HIV develop AIDS, those who do develop it become severely ill. Similarly, not everyone testing positive for the coronavirus develops COVID-19, but those who do develop it are hospitalised and become severely ill. This is why preventing catching the coronavirus is just as important as preventing catching HIV.

What is the likelihood of catching the coronavirus?

As of the date of this writing, and according to Worldometers (2020a), there have been 47,806 confirmed cases in the UK, which has a population of 67,802,457 (Worldometers, 2020b). This means that the total number of hospital admissions per 1 million population is approximately 704, and the number of deaths per 1 million population is 73. Furthermore, Plymouth (the city where I live) had a population of 264,200 as of February (World Population Review, 2020), and as of the date of this writing it has had a total of 102 hospital admissions (GOV.UK, 2020b), out of which 13 (approximately 12.8%) patients have died (O’Leary, 2020); which means that even though there is a low risk of catching the virus, those who do catch it and develop COVID-19 are at high risk of dying.

Why should I stay at home?

Because you do not know whether you are infected or not, and if you are coronavirus positive but you have not developed COVID-19; you could still pass the virus onto other people who might be more vulnerable than you and who might develop COVID-19. Alternatively, you could catch the virus and in the worst case scenario die.

How is staying at home protecting the NHS?

When you prevent catching the coronavirus, you also prevent spreading it around. This means that you are doing everything you can to make sure that the NHS does not become overwhelmed with patients.

What preventive action can be taken?

  • You could self-educate on the topic in order to feel confident that you know what’s going on, and how to survive the crisis.
  • You could stay home in order to prevent becoming a patient, or spreading the virus (creating patients). This means that the NHS will have more supplies to deal with the overwhelming number of cases, and those severely ill will have a higher chance of getting the medical attention and equipment that they need.
  • You could share the information with your friends and family.

What reliable advice is available?

  • The World Health Organization (WHO; 2020a) has a section dedicated to the coronavirus pandemic with all available scientific information.
  • The NHS.UK (2020) has a section also dedicated to the disease.
  • The GOV.UK (2020a) also has a section dedicated to the lockdown in relation to the pandemic.

How is the virus transmitted?

According the World Health Organization (WHO; 2020b) “COVID-19 virus is primarily transmitted between people through respiratory droplets and contact routes […] transmission of the COVID-19 virus can occur by direct contact with infected people and indirect contact with surfaces in the immediate environment or with objects used on the infected person […] Airborne transmission is different from droplet transmission […]can remain in the air for long periods of time and be transmitted to others over distances greater than 1 m”.

References

GOV.UK (2020a) ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): what you need to do’ [Online]. Available at https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus (Accessed 5 April 2020).

GOV.UK (2020b) ‘Total UK COVID-19 cases’, 4th April [Online]. Available at https://www.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/ae5dda8f86814ae99dde905d2a9070ae (Accessed 5 April 2020).

NHS.UK (2020) ‘Advice for everyone’, 3 April [Online]. Available at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/ (Accessed 4 April 2020).

O’Leary, M. (2020) ‘Ten coronavirus deaths confirmed in past 24 hours across Devon and Cornwall’, Plymouth Herald, 5 April [Online]. Available at https://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/coronavirus-death-toll-uk-risen-4021937 (Accessed 5 April 2020).

World Health Organization (2020a) ‘Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic’ [Online]. Available at https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019 (Accessed 5 April 2020).

World Health Organization (2020b) ‘Modes of transmission of virus causing COVID-19: implications for IPC precaution recommendations’, 29 March [Online]. Available at https://www.who.int/news-room/commentaries/detail/modes-of-transmission-of-virus-causing-covid-19-implications-for-ipc-precaution-recommendations (Accessed 5 April 2020).

World Population Review (2020) ‘Plymouth population 2020’, 17 February [Online]. Available at https://worldpopulationreview.com/world-cities/plymouth-population/ (Accessed 5 April 2020).

Worldometers (2020a) ‘COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic’, 5 April [Online]. Available at https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/ (Accessed 5 April 2020).

Worldometers (2020b) ‘U.K. Population’, 5 April [Online]. Available at https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/uk-population/ (Accessed 5 April 2020).

Categories
Journalism Opinion

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Brief: Protection Motivation Theory, Outbreak Appraisal, and Understanding Collective Behaviour

The world is in chaos. The coronavirus has accelerated at an unprecedented rate, leaving planet Earth feeling vulnerable and in a state of collective sorrow. Things have never been like this. Unless you are over 100 years old, you have never witnessed this level of transnosological danger in your entire life. Due to the panic-ridden headlines, many people are experiencing an aversion to potential loss or potential grief. Others seem to be in denial. Where is the balance? This article aims to explore some of the facts, figures, and dynamics determining coronavirus-associated behaviour.

“Protection motivation theory describes adaptive and maladaptive coping with a health threat as the result of two appraisal processes: threat appraisal and coping appraisal“.

Norman and Conner (1996, p. 11)

Threat Appraisal

Worldometers (2020)

As of 28/03/2020:

TOTAL GLOBAL CASES: +602,000

TOTAL GLOBAL DEATHS: +27,400

TOTAL GLOBAL RECOVERIES: +133,500

How severe is the threat?

The threat is perceived by the public as extremely severe and unprecedented. Here in the United Kingdom it has been set as high risk; and this is why Primer Minister Boris Johnson has enforced the draconian lockdown (Cabinet Office, 2020). The virus is very contagious, and due to the increasing death rates people are feeling very susceptible with this disease threatening their physical integrity, and potentially their life or the life of those whom they love. Nevertheless, it must be objectively said that 95% of recorded cases worldwide report mild symptoms. Yet, from mild symptoms have arisen many deaths.

How susceptible am I to the threat?

It seems that among the high risk groups are people over 80 years old, those with underlying health conditions, and smokers with chronic pulmonary problems. Furthermore, according to the United Nations (2020): “The risk depends on where you are – and more specifically, whether there is a COVID-19 outbreak unfolding there”. In other words, demographic variables will indicate the level of risk in specific areas. For instance, the South West area where I live in the UK is the area with the lowest risk of contamination (GOV.UK, 2020b), and my city (Plymouth) has only 26 cases so far (O’Leary, 2020). Furthermore, commenting on the safety of packages and deliveries, the UN (2020) further states: “The likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low”. So if you are concerned about me, don’t worry, I am ready.

I sanitise my body, my environment, and my mind. Call me mad, but I’ll survive.

How is the virus appraised by the global government?

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned the world about the fact that no antibiotics, no medication, and no vaccination has proven to prevent or cure the coronavirus. Therefore, they appraise this as a serious situation.

World Health Organization (2020).

What are mental health experts saying?

Mental health experts understand that this is without a doubt a stress-generative situation. The uncertainty that COVID-19 triggers is in many cases inevitable. Furthermore, the unpredictability and uncontrollability that manifest with the facts and figures are a source of anxiety for many people. Nevertheless, this does not mean that pre-emptive and preventive action cannot be taken. The GOV and the WHO have issued specific guidance which can help reduce the hazard and intensity of the situation. Sanitary action is in this case reasoned action, and this can be planned, performed, and maintained in order to cope with the threat in an adaptive way. Moreover, because this is an extraordinary situation which has disrupted the standard routines of many people, there is a certain level of confusion, fear, and worry. Remember to:

  • Wash your hands with soap as frequently as possible for 20 seconds.
  • Stay indoors unless it is absolutely necessary to go out to seek medical care.
  • Order groceries online as infrequently as possible instead of going to the shop (even though online deliveries are the least unsafe option, there is still a risk of contamination through such medium).

Coping Appraisal

INTERNAL LOCUS OF CONTROL: Factors which can be totally controlled by and depend solely on the individual.

EXTERNAL LOCUS OF CONTROL: Factors which can’t be controlled by and do not depend on the individual.

(Norman and Conner, 1996).

I see people behaving like nothing is happening. Am I too paranoid?

No. What you see happening is a state of collective denial. People keep going to work, doing physical exercise outdoors, and attending social gatherings because they are underestimating the severity of the threat. The kind of self-absorption that is dominant in individualistic, Western societies is an intellectual disadvantage in this case which requires an analysis of global events and behaviour. It only takes analysing what is happening in China, the US, Italy and Spain to understand that due to the incubation period of the virus (up to 2-3 weeks; Worldometers, 2020) it is quite possible that the COVID-19 is having a delayed impact in the UK. The virus does survive a long time in the air, meaning that it can be breathed quite easily. This is why a two metre distance is advised. Those behaving as if nothing was happening are not able to rationalise the threat because being able to move around gives them a false sense of being in control of the situation. In my opinion, it is an unnecessary risk they are taking. Similarly, those going to work outside the emergency system are still playing down the risk.

According to Norman and Conner (1996), the more an individual perceives potential health susceptibility, and the more that the threat is perceived to be severe, the more fear arousal there is. This means that the way people respond to the outbreak will depend on their level of awareness about the high risk the coronavirus poses. For instance, here in the UK there are more deaths than recoveries, and the counter for recoveries has been stuck at 135 (GOV.UK, 2020b) for several days already, unlike the counters for new cases and deaths, which keep burgeoning. This is problematic and worrisome. So if you are feeling too paranoid and as if you are being too careful, rest assured that you are just being as careful and responsible as you and everyone else are expected to be.

What can I do to calm down?

This is a good question, as everything functions better when people remain calm. There are many variables that are within your locus of control, such as the way you interpret the situation (perception) which can be optimised by engaging in intellectually stimulating activities such as reading, watching films, or having conversations. The more you learn, the more confident you will feel in assessing risk, and the more you will engage in reasoned behaviours that promote health and prevent disease. Another variable that you can control and nourish in yourself is your emotional wellbeing, which can be enhanced by ensuring that you get enough sleep (this will also boost your immune system, and will therefore help you fight off infections; NHS.UK, 2018), that you eat well, and that you have a tidy and clean environment around you. If you have long-term conditions, it is necessary that you continue to take your prescribed medications during this time in order to keep healthy. Furthermore, remember that you have the capacity of preventing contamination by following the guidance. Successfully executing the recommended courses of action will help you feel self-efficient and safe. Engage in some yoga or pilates at home, entertain yourself, and stay in touch with your family and friends digitally. Keep the following points in mind:

  • Neither underestimate nor overestimate the magnitude of the situation. Stay tuned for the facts and figures.
  • You can sign online petitions to participate in requesting specific outcomes for the common good.
  • Plan for short to medium term supplies and associated variables of a lockdown.
  • Mental contagion can happen if you allocate too much time and attention to digital material which is sensationalist or misinformed. Be wise about the type of information you consume.
  • Double check that your beliefs about what is healthy are not based on misinformation. Here are some myth busters to keep in mind:

What factors are not under my control?

There are several variables that could become a source of frustration during the lockdown. Anything that is outside your mind, and outside your environment is outside your control. You are not responsible for the behaviour of others, and the best thing you can do is share the guidance with your loved ones and hope that they follow it. Moreover, you have no current participation in most of the decision-making processes of the jurisdiction (e.g. the legal measures being duly taken by the GOV in relation to this pandemic). If you are not able to work from home, and cannot make money as a result, you might feel like everything is going to collapse, and in such case all you can do is hope that the GOV will protect your welfare, as such decision is within their locus of control. If you are a key worker, you might feel that your life is being put at risk in order to save the life of others. All you can do is hope that the GOV will listen to the healthcare industry in regards to the much needed protective equipment, spaces, and ventilators. This too is within the GOV’s locus of control. For example, medical staff in Spain are being forced to sedate and asphyxiate the elderly to death in order to use their ventilators on younger patients. Because providing equipment is a decision which only the Spanish political leaders can make, doctors are having a psychological breakdown and are accusing the authorities of genocide for neglecting the welfare of vulnerable citizens. Take a look at this video:

References

Cabinet Office (2020) ‘Guidance: Staying at home and away from others (social distancing)’, GOV.UK, 23 March [Online]. Available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/full-guidance-on-staying-at-home-and-away-from-others (Accessed 27 March 2020).

GOV.UK (2020a) ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): what you need to know’ [Online]. Available at https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus (Accessed 27 March 2020).

GOV.UK (2020b) ‘Total UK COVID-19 Cases” [Online]. Available at https://www.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/ae5dda8f86814ae99dde905d2a9070ae (Accessed 27 March 2020).

Hamzelou, J. (2020) ‘How long does coronavirus stay on surfaces and can they infect you?’, New Scientist, 25 March [Online]. Available at https://www.newscientist.com/article/2238494-how-long-does-coronavirus-stay-on-surfaces-and-can-they-infect-you/ (Accessed 27 March 2020).

Johnson, B. (n.d.) ‘About Boris’, Boris Johnson [Online]. Available at http://www.boris-johnson.com/about/ (Accessed 27 March 2020).

NHS.UK (2018) ‘Why lack of sleep is bad for your health’ [Online]. Available at https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/why-lack-of-sleep-is-bad-for-your-health/ (Accessed 27 March 2020).

Norman, P. and Conner, M. (1996) ‘The role of social cognition in health behaviours’, in Conner, M. (ed) Predicting Health Behaviour, Buckingham, Open University Press, pp. 1-22.

O’Leary, M. (2020) ‘Four new coronavirus cases confirmed in Plymouth’, Plymouth Herald, 26 March [Online]. Available at https://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/news/plymouth-news/four-new-coronavirus-cases-confirmed-3989498 (Accessed 27 March 2020).

United Nations (2020) ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): Frequently Asked Questions’ [Online]. Available at https://www.un.org/en/coronavirus/covid-19-faqs (Accessed 27 March 2020).

World Health Organization (2020) ‘Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: myth busters’ [Online]. Available at https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/myth-busters (Accessed 27 March 2020).

Worldometers (2020) ‘Coronavirus Update (LIVE)’ [Online]. Available at https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/ (Accessed 27 March 2020).

Categories
Journalism

Coronavirus (COVID-19): Base Rate Fallacy, Everyday Heuristics, Panic, and the Media’s Influence

The digital world is spreading the panic disease at a faster pace than the coronavirus outbreak. It is very easy to panic when confronted with sensationalist information. This is why analysing the situation closely is the best thing anyone can do for their mental health.

Overview:

So far, there have been over 244,000 reported cases globally, and out of those over 10,000 have resulted in death, and over 87,000 have resulted in recovery. This suggests that the great majority of infected people recover. Moreover, there are over 147,000 active cases, out of which more than 139,000 are reported as in mild condition, whereas only 7,516 are reported as in critical condition. This indicates that most people diagnosed with the disease are at low risk of death in comparison with the minority which is at high risk of death. It is true that coronavirus death rates have been burgeoning. Nevertheless, there are many reasons why people die, and it is important to keep these rates in mind when making inferences.

Worldmeter (2020).

Daily global deaths:

  • Over 1,000 have died today due to COVID-19
  • Over 1,000 have died today due to seasonal flu.
  • Over 2,500 people have died today by suicide.
  • Over 2,500 people have died today due to malaria.
  • Over 6,000 people have died today due to alcohol.
  • Over 4,000 people have died today due to HIV/AIDS.
  • Over 13,000 people have died today due to smoking.
  • Over 21,000 people have died today due to cancer.

Worldmeter (2020).

UK specific figures

“As of 9am on 19 March 2020, 64,621 people have been tested in the UK, of which 61,352 were confirmed negative and 3,269 were confirmed positive. As of 1pm 144 patients in the UK who tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) have died”.

GOV.UK (2020b)

Understanding global emergencies

What is the level of risk with the coronavirus?

Based on the research presented above which was collected today, so far the risk that the coronavirus poses is very similar to the risk that the seasonal flu poses. The problem is that COVID-19 has no vaccination yet, and it is also extremely contagious in comparison to less contagious diseases such as AIDS/HIV. Another risk is that the virus is spreading very fast.

Should I panic?

No. Panic is not good for anyone. Panic happens because the media industry tends to engage in what can be described as a base rate fallacy (Hardman, 2015) which is the idea that people tend attribute a higher level of risk to a situation when they are not aware of the actual base rates of such phenomena. As demonstrated with the above mentioned figures, COVID-19 has still not reached a point where it surpasses other illnesses which are also global emergencies, such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, and cancer. And whilst it is true that the coronavirus’ rates have been burgeoning and it is spreading super fast, there is hope that it can be tackled (i.e. most people recover).

What other cognitive biases should I be aware of when it comes to illness?

Apart from the base rate fallacy, there is another everyday error people make when making sense of information, and this phenomenon is called availability heuristic (Hardman, 2015); which happens when people consciously allocate their attention to a specific situation whilst at the same time ignoring equally important situations, and then believing that whatever they paid attention to has a higher frequency than what they never consciously paid attention to. In the case of COVID-19, as demonstrated above, there are currently other diseases with death tolls way higher than this virus. Nevertheless, due to this cognitive bias people tend to think that COVID-19 has a higher frequency of deaths than other illnesses, but this happens because the media industry is selective about the information they present to the public, and the information they omit. The daily death tolls mentioned above are evidence about base rate fallacy and availability heuristics present in everyday interpretation of data.

What can I do to protect myself?

  • Follow the GOV.UK (2020a) advice.
  • Take a deep breath, we are all doing the best we can to help.
  • If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms, contact your doctor or call 111 (NHS, 2020).
  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and warm water.
  • Critically judge death rates without panicking.
  • Self-isolate, and remain informed about developments of the outbreak.
  • Be kind to emergency staff, as their job has no lockdown.
  • If you are a journalist, be mindful about how you present your information. Everything functions better when people remain calm.

References

GOV.UK (2020) ‘Coronavirus (COVID 19): UK government response’ [Online]. Available at https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/coronavirus-covid-19-uk-government-response (Accessed 19 March 2020).

GOV.UK (2020b) ‘Number of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases and risk in the UK’ [Online]. Available at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-the-public (Accessed 19 March 2020).

Hardman, D. (2015) ‘Everyday errors in making sense of the world’, in Barker, M. J. and Turner, J. (eds), Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 51-85.

National Health Service (2020) ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19)’ [Online]. Available at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/ (Accessed 19 March 2020)

World Health Organization (2020) ‘COVID-19 situation’ [Online]. Available at https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/685d0ace521648f8a5beeeee1b9125cd (Accessed 19 March 2020).

Worldmeter (2020a) ‘COVID-19 Coronavirus Outbreak’ [Online]. Available at https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/ (Accessed 19 March 2020).

Worldmeter (2020a) ‘Worldwide’ [Online]. Available at https://www.worldometers.info (Accessed 19 March 2020).

Categories
Science

The Psychology of Nature: Climate Change and the Anthropocene

Climate change is happening, and the natural world is struggling. The scientific world and the media industry are signifying “doomsday”, and the evidence is accumulating. Human beings have been aware of this for a while, and in 1988 the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) was created in order to tackle such problems (UN, 2017). Nevertheless, global warming is still happening, threatening to destroy our natural world and the survival of our species. Adams (2015) explained that even though there are people who know and care about climate change, they still struggle in their efforts to take individual action, and make the necessary changes. This document will address all these issues, as well as the relationship humans have with the natural world, and what happens when nature is not accessible.  For purposes of clarification, the term “nature” will be used along with Stevens’ (2015, p. 327) definition of the natural world: “those environments which have not been heavily modified by human activity”. 

According to Zalasiewicz et al. (2016), the term “anthropocene” is understood as the epoch we currently live in, which is considered the most environmentally destructive time in history due to anthropogenic (man-made) activity. In other words, the way in which people go about their daily lives (including their habits) is having a record-breaking negative impact on the environment. This suggests that human beings are in some way or another responsible for global climate change (GCC). The evidence is compelling (NASA, n.d.), and has been disseminated for such a long time that there even exists an international legal framework for it.  The United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCC) took effect in 1994 and since then, it has been guiding global initiatives to reduce the greenhouse effect. Before this was the case, in 1988 the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) created the IPCC (n.d.) to conduct assessments, and report information about the topic. Furthermore, Adams’ (2015) work posits the fact that there are many problems directly related to climate change; such as the potential extinction of wildlife, overpopulation, deforestation, and air pollution. Such serious threats and their increasing likelihood cause a lot of collective distress, and this has led psychologists to wonder why despite the fact that survival is at stake, and despite there being so much circulation of such information; people are still living as if nothing was happening. Adams (2015) further explained using Freud’s psychoanalytic framework that people develop defence mechanisms to protect their mind from the unpleasant knowledge of reality. This is problematic, as the urgency for taking action increases every year, and an individual behavioural focus is necessary.

The UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS, 2019) cited in Sonnichsen (2020) conducted a national survey in 2019 where 4,224 participants from randomly selected households in the UK were interviewed face-to-face and were asked the question: “How concerned, if at all, are you about current climate change, sometimes referred to as ‘global warming’?” 45% of respondents stated that they were “fairly concerned”, 35% stated that they were “very concerned”, 13% said they were “not very concerned”, 5% stated that they were not at all concerned, and only 1% stated that they did not know. Therefore, it can be inferred that the great majority of people in the UK are conscious about climate change.  Furthermore, the same sample was asked about their beliefs in the causes of climate change: 40% believed that both natural and anthropogenic processes were to blame. 33% believed that it was caused mainly by the anthropocene. 15% believed that human activity was the sole cause, 2% were skeptical about it, and the rest either did not know or had no opinion about it. More questions were asked which showed that in the UK, changes are expected both from government and society.

Further evidence (Evans, 2019) has compounded that the behavioural impact of society on the climate is rising along with the temperatures. This means that factors such as negative affect, conflict, and psychological distress are more common as exposure to extreme weather events and threats increases. What all of the mentioned above suggests is that GCC is a result of urban, every day industrial and domestic activities (Adams, 2015; Evans, 2019). Not surprisingly, scientists are worried about a potential doomsday (Meckling, 2020), and they are not the only ones. Research (Stevens, 2015) has shown that people have higher levels of arousal when they are exposed to urban environments than when they are exposed to natural environments. This indicates that anthropogenic city life is associated with more stressful experiences than rural life. The term biophilia means “love for life” (Stevens, 2019b), and it is used to describe the way in which human beings have an inherent attraction towards and a need for nature. Evidence about embedment- the idea that the environment in which the body is located has an effect on mood and behaviour- suggests that individual identities are made and remade in the light of the world around the body (the ego; Sanchez Marrugo, 2019); and such world influences mental health (Bishop, 2015). Ulrich et al. (1991) as cited in Stevens (2015) produced evidence about how the natural world triggers relaxing psychosomatic responses, which means that it serves as a mood stabiliser. Whether it is a picture, a visualisation, or an actual trip to nature.

Moreover, Stevens (2015) highlights the importance of a restorative environment when it comes to healing. Ulrich (1984) cited in Stevens (2015) conducted research to determine whether the outside view of a window influenced the speed of recovery for patients, and found that indeed those who were able to see natural landscapes from their windows had a faster recovery and were subsequently discharged earlier than those who could only see a brick wall. This evidence suggests that exposure to the natural world is beneficial for people. Since humans have a natural need to embed themselves in the natural world due to the unique and impossible to replicate sensory stimulation provided by such an environment, it can be said that having a close relationship with nature is therapeutic. According to Louv (2005) cited in Stevens (2019a), a good descriptive term when it comes to this phenomenon is “Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD)”.  He posited that not embedding oneself in nature often enough can have detrimental effects on overall wellbeing, and this could be interpreted as a form of self-neglect because if a person does not meet their natural, psychoevolutionary needs; they can indeed forget what it feels like to love life, and might even become suicidal. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported an increase in suicide rates in recent years (Kaur and Manders, 2019), which suggests that less people are in love with life. Evidence indicates that people can heal from nature deficits through what is known as attention restoration therapy (ART; Stevens, 2015). It consists of embedding oneself in an environment that is away from urban life, and which elicits grounding and relaxation. For instance, it has been found that sunlight has a positive effect on human health when it touches the skin, as it triggers a chemical reaction and creates vitamin D, which boosts the immune system and improves mood (Stevens, 2015). Therefore, embedding oneself in natural places has many benefits. This compounds the understanding of natural environments as a necessity.

To summarise, the threat of climate change is very real and every human being is impacted by it. The natural world has an important role to play in mental health wellbeing, and lack of access to it can have detrimental effects on public health. Suicide, the anti-thesis of biophilia has been increasing in the UK. It is unclear at this point how biophilia can be elicited through the status quo in order to reduce anti-life outcomes such as suicide and global warming.

References 

Adams, M. (2015) ‘The wider environment’, in Taylor and Turner (eds) Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 373-409.

Ainslie, D. and Clarke, H. (2019) ‘UK Environmental Accounts: 2019’ [Online], Office for National Statistics. Available at https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/environmentalaccounts/bulletins/ukenvironmentalaccounts/2019 (Accessed 30 January 2020).

Bishop, S. (2015) ‘Boundaries of the self’, in Taylor and Turner (eds) Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 287-318.

Evans, G.W. (2019) ‘Projected Behavioural Impacts of Global Climate Change’, Annual Review of Psychology, vol. 70(1), pp. 449-474 [Online]. Available at https://pmt-eu.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/f/13ueeno/TN_annual_reviews10.1146/annurev-psych-010418-103023 (Accessed 30 January 2020).

IPCC (n.d.) About [Online]. Available at https://www.ipcc.ch/about/ (Accessed 30 January 2020).

Kaur, J. and Manders, B. (2019) ‘Suicides in the UK: 2018 Registrations’ [Online], Office for National Statistics. Available at https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/suicidesintheunitedkingdom/2018registrations (Accessed 30 January 2020).

Meckling, J. (2020) ‘It is 100 Seconds to Midnight: 2020 Doomsday Clock Statement’, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists [Online]. Available at https://thebulletin.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/2020-Doomsday-Clock-statement.pdf (Accessed 31 January 2020).

NASA (n.d.) Climate Change: Evidence [Online]. Available at https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/ (Accessed 30 January 2020).

Sanchez Marrugo, B.P. (2019) TMA 02, Milton Keynes, The Open University. 

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