APS Member/Author: Arie Kruglanski
For most Americans, the coronavirus pandemic represents a completely unprecedented circumstance, as novel as it is life-changing. No event in recent history has affected us as profoundly and pervasively.
Not only does it remind us of our physical fragility, it undermines economic security, throws daily routines topsy-turvy, wreaks havoc on plans and isolates us from friends and neighbors.
This crisis has induced wide reaching uncertainty. We do not know what to think or how to make heads or tails of these completely unfamiliar circumstances.
Who will be affected? Will our loved ones? How quickly? Will tests be available? Will we survive? How long will this last? What about our work? Our income?
The combination of uncertainty and danger is a recipe for severe angst. It feeds an intense desire for certainty, better known to psychologists as the need for cognitive closure.
When their need for closure rises, people become “group-centric,” which means they yearn for cohesion and unity.
Patriotism is elevated but so, often, is nationalism, the idea that our nation is superior to others, better at handling the crisis that foreigners have propagated to begin with.
Along with the growing attachment to others comes a subtle shift in our morals.
Communal values of cooperation, consideration and caring are prioritized, whereas individualistic ones of prestige, popularity and power lose some of their cachet.
Our cultural ideals morph accordingly. In times of crisis, we celebrate and accord major significance to persons who serve communitarian values, extend a helping hand to others, sacrifice their self-interests for the common good, exhibit empathy and model humanity.
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