October 18, 2020
Summary: It is clearly possible to explain current social compliance and behavior towards Covid as a product of fundamental biases we all exhibit. This article explains the key biases at work as Israel struggles to ensure adherence to Covid regulations by various groups within the population.
Explanations abound as to why certain Israelis, and especially within their communities, are not taking proper health precautions during this pandemic. These explanations are only partially correct as they describe the symptoms but not the source of this flagrant behavior despite the epidemiology evidence, law enforcement and social pressure to act otherwise. These justifications suggest personal and societal reasons that include not being a “frier” (or sucker – a big no-no in our society); skepticism and conspiracies as to the politics and science; rule inconsistency; and, for Haredim in particular, the nature of their close-knit communities and religious priorities.
Beneath the surface, however, the real cause and reinforcement of this behavior comes from a more “human” source of how we “process” the information we receive. I spent many years as a jury consultant in the U.S. employing social psychology to understand how and why people make the decisions they do and in what way this directly impacts their behavior.
It turns out that decisions are not “fact based”. None are. As I have taught trial lawyers, “facts follow feelings”. And these feelings reflect the way we process inputs from people and media and then decide – unconsciously for the most part – what we believe is true and our response. Throwing facts, such as the daily death toll or the number of patients on respirators, will do little to change these feelings.
This behavior is the direct result of the biases we all have. Everyone has biases – reflecting our values and beliefs –and these are the filters through which we see and confirm our reality while rejecting contradictory information and feedback. There are many ways we are conditioned to inculcate these biases from our family dynamics, social milieu and life experiences, however, I do not want to address the sources of bias but rather its impact on attitudes and behavior.