COVID-19: People better at resisting urge to break lockdown than expected01 May 2020
Professor Patricia Riddell, Professor of Applied Neuroscience at the University of Reading, said:
"Recent polls suggest that people are much more compliant with enforcing social distancing than had been predicted by the government. In a poll by King’s College, London, 48% accepted the rules, and 60% said they would feel uncomfortable going out to bars and restaurants or using public transport when the restrictions were lifted. How might we account for this difference?
"The benefits of social distancing are in the future and we know that people sometimes find it hard to imagine these benefits especially when there are competing immediate rewards. This accounts for why some people find it difficult to exercise or diet - they have to choose between relaxing in front of the television or having a tasty snack which provides an immediate reward, or going to the gym or eating something healthy which provides a long term reward.
"When we want to do one thing which will be fun in the moment but know we should do something different which has no immediate benefit, we find it hard to resist the urge to go with the moment. This is even worse when someone else is telling us what we should do.
"In terms of the lockdown, the assumption was that people would find it hard to resist doing the fun things instead of staying indoors, and that this urge would increase the longer that restrictions were in place.
"However, we are much better at resisting urges when we are making a choice for ourselves and when we can frame the choice as beneficial to others as well as us. Since many people recognise that lockdown has a social benefit, especially to our NHS, this becomes a less difficult choice to make, and so we have less urge to resist.
"This is hardest for teenagers because the parts of their brain that are responsible for immediate reward are more developed than the parts that consider the longer term - and they are particularly sensitive to the social reward of being with others. We can help our teenagers by making sure that they continue to connect with their friends in meaningful ways and by helping them to think through the consequences of choosing to go out."