Nav: Home

Report points to intergroup tensions from different interpretations of social distancing

June 28, 2020

Changes to lockdown measures in the UK and around the world in an effort to restart the economy could lead to wide disparity in how the public adheres to social distancing, according to a new report from psychologists at the University of Bath.

In a paper published in the British Journal of Social Psychology, the researchers warn of emerging tensions that will arise between groups who interpret messages about social distancing in different ways and the challenge this poses to policymakers.

They suggest that in March, strict lockdown guidelines supported by legal and policy changes, meant that most people adhered to the same mitigating practices including isolation and distancing.

Now that lockdown is easing in many parts of the world, with policies becoming more ambiguous, many practices now need to be negotiated on an interpersonal level, they argue. This means that ensuring compliance will increasingly rely on informal, social policing between individuals: both for those who do, versus those who do not uphold social distancing.

Over recent weeks in the UK, scenes of packed sunny beaches have filled newspapers, leading some to question the sense of others, labelled 'covidiots'. For the researchers this is a sign of mixed messaging surrounding the relaxation of lockdown with different interpretations by individuals.

They warn that morally blaming individuals for the impact of their behaviour on the pandemic - as evidenced in the recent threat to close beaches - may detract from a much-needed discussion over whether guidelines are fit for purpose and their effect on infection rates.

Equally, they draw attention to moral challenges faced by others who wish to maintain strict distancing or isolation and the challenges they now face under pressure to socialise without wanting to appear rude or overdramatic. The researchers suggest that how individuals continue to differently interpret public health messages about COVID-19 will lead to increased tensions between groups moving further into summer.

Lead researcher Annayah Prosser from the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath explains: "Strict lockdown guidelines meant that until recently everyone was adhering to the same mitigating practices such as isolation and distancing. However, now that lockdown is easing, and policy is becoming more ambiguous, many practices now need to be negotiated on an interpersonal level. For example, at the height of lockdown you didn't need to decline an invitation to a social gathering, because it was technically against the law. Now, if you decline an invitation, you could be perceived as rude, or as a 'do-gooder' who thinks they're better than everyone else."

In their report, the team outline how this person-to-person informal regulation poses difficulties for people who want to continue to maintain strict practices over time, who may increasingly face social derogation and ostracism from others who behave differently.

Annayah Prosser added: "Our main recommendation for individuals is to avoid portraying others as morally 'good' or 'bad' for their actions. People may have complex reasons for their behaviour, that may not be visible on sight or through a short social media post. These choices are tough and simplifying behaviour as 'good' or 'bad' without knowing the full story could lead to increased tensions and polarisation at a time when communities need to work together constructively to address the crisis."
-end-


University of Bath

Related Lead Articles:

Poor diet can lead to blindness
An extreme case of 'fussy' or 'picky' eating caused a young patient's blindness, according to a new case report published today [2 Sep 2019] in Annals of Internal Medicine.
What's more powerful, word-of-mouth or following someone else's lead?
Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, UCLA and the University of Texas published new research in the INFORMS journal Marketing Science, that reveals the power of word-of-mouth in social learning, even when compared to the power of following the example of someone we trust or admire.
UTI discovery may lead to new treatments
Sufferers of recurring urinary tract infections (UTIs) could expect more effective treatments thanks to University of Queensland-led research.
Increasing frailty may lead to death
A new study published in Age and Ageing indicates that frail patients in any age group are more likely to die than those who are not frail.
Discovery could lead to munitions that go further, much faster
Researchers from the U.S. Army and top universities discovered a new way to get more energy out of energetic materials containing aluminum, common in battlefield systems, by igniting aluminum micron powders coated with graphene oxide.
Shorter sleep can lead to dehydration
Adults who sleep just six hours per night -- as opposed to eight -- may have a higher chance of being dehydrated, according to a study by Penn State.
For the brokenhearted, grief can lead to death
Grief can cause inflammation that can kill, according to new research from Rice University.
Lead or follow: What sets leaders apart?
Leaders are more willing to take responsibility for making decisions that affect the welfare of others.
Taking the lead toward witchweed control
A compound that binds to and inhibits a crucial receptor protein offers a new route for controlling a parasitic plant.
How looking at the big picture can lead to better decisions
New research suggests how distancing yourself from a decision may help you make the choice that produces the most benefit for you and others affected.
More Lead News and Lead Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

TED Radio Wow-er
School's out, but many kids–and their parents–are still stuck at home. Let's keep learning together. Special guest Guy Raz joins Manoush for an hour packed with TED science lessons for everyone.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#565 The Great Wide Indoors
We're all spending a bit more time indoors this summer than we probably figured. But did you ever stop to think about why the places we live and work as designed the way they are? And how they could be designed better? We're talking with Emily Anthes about her new book "The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of how Buildings Shape our Behavior, Health and Happiness".
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Third. A TED Talk.
Jad gives a TED talk about his life as a journalist and how Radiolab has evolved over the years. Here's how TED described it:How do you end a story? Host of Radiolab Jad Abumrad tells how his search for an answer led him home to the mountains of Tennessee, where he met an unexpected teacher: Dolly Parton.Jad Nicholas Abumrad is a Lebanese-American radio host, composer and producer. He is the founder of the syndicated public radio program Radiolab, which is broadcast on over 600 radio stations nationwide and is downloaded more than 120 million times a year as a podcast. He also created More Perfect, a podcast that tells the stories behind the Supreme Court's most famous decisions. And most recently, Dolly Parton's America, a nine-episode podcast exploring the life and times of the iconic country music star. Abumrad has received three Peabody Awards and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2011.