Humans are irrational but capable of behaving rationally



 What has this Pandemic told us about how people behave in a crisis and how the authorities should manage that behaviour. Panic buying causing unnecessary shortages, having a big last night out before the lockdown officially starts and ignoring social distancing to go for a walk in the countryside whilst the weather is good, these all appear examples of selfish, irresponsible and irrational behaviour. If people can’t be trusted to act rationally should the authorities be more autocratic and impose compliance or are people capable of acting rationally if they trust the source of information and it is well communicated? Are we wrong to describe this behaviour as  irrational? 

 

Suddenly the motorway is blanketed in thick fog. You can see very little in front of you and nothing in your rear mirror. You pull into the near side lane and slow down only for other cars to go speeding past you. Are these motorists reckless idiots or can their behaviour be seen as rational? If you meet them at the next service station and asked them why, in such poor visibility, they drove faster they might say that they have no control over people driving into the back of them but they can take action to avoid obstacles  in front of them! 

 

Stocking up on essentials is logical if you have good reason to believe there will be a shortage in the near future. But it is selfish as it puts the individuals interest before that of the community. It is also as we know from experience a self fulfilling prophecy since if individuals buy more than they need they will creat the shortage they fear. 

 

It is very difficult to reason with someone who is being irrational you have to persuade them that their fear and anxiety is disproportionate to the situation. So past experience may be a key factor, how much do you trust the source of information that actions are a response to. Do the Chinese population trust their government less and the Swedish population trust theirs more. Is this the explanation for their different approaches to managing behaviour during the pandemic? 

 

Humans are irrational, driven by emotions and base instincts but they are capable of acting rationally given the right information from a trusted source along side sufficient reassurance to put their  anxieties into perspective. 

 

Blair Mcpherson former Director, author and blogger www.blairmcpherson.co.uk 

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