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The Psychology of Coronavirus – A Pakistani Perspective

The Psychology of Coronavirus – A Pakistani Perspective

Author: Muhammad Sohaib Niazi

MBA Candidate at LUMS | I/O Psychologist | Talent Management Specialist | Erasmus Grad | Life Coach

Humans are strange, definitely the most complicated and unpredictable creatures on earth. Until recently it felt like we were living in an altogether different world; a stable and predictable space where everything seemed to be fairly in control. We were flying through space, creating better and faster technologies to connect with each other, treating novel diseases and helping the world become a better place by spreading messages of unity and service to mankind and suddenly everything changed!

  • Italy said it would be prioritizing treatment for younger people.
  • Everyone started panic buying and impulse hoarding of necessities.
  • A pandemic forced the population to take extraordinary measures about themselves.
  • Unnecessary, false and abrogated information also started surfacing everywhere on social media.
  • Measures necessary to curtail the effects of the virus are deemed against religious practices by some schools of thought.
  • Many people started to wear masks, use sanitizers and buy expensive products which are no more helpful than basic hygiene already necessary.
  • Even some people face coronavirus anxiety and others seem to be aloof and insensitive to the severity of the issue.
  • People are clueless about the financial impact of coronavirus and some seem to be perplexed about such a low death ratio by coronavirus. Is it worth fearing or a few thousand deaths mean there is a very low probability of it affecting me?
  • Some even went to the extent of declaring coronavirus a fantasy or a conspiracy.
  • People don’t have any idea what to do with their work, their life, the future of their jobs and living
  • etc.

Why do humans forget to “behave” amidst pandemics and why have the global population in general and Pakistani population in specific seem to be clueless about how to take on such a situation?

A simple “What is happening” and “What should be done” comparison will illustrate how people think, feel and behave during coronavirus and how they should be doing during this viral outbreak.

What is Happening

What is # 1 – Unpredictability

What does a weather app do for us? Predicts weather that gives us control over that one variable of life. What does that control mean to us? It ensures survival – the fundamental most need of humans. COVID-19 outbreak? Can’t exactly predict how it would happen, has
it happened to me or not, then such unpredictability decreases our overall ability to control our lives.

This in turn means, we feel threatened as our survival is at stake. No brainer that we would behave differently and odd when we can’t see what’s coming, how and when is it coming and whether or not it has occurred to me or not. All of this shakes our chances of survival.


What is # 2 – Evolutionary Psychology at Work

From an evolutionary perspective, humans are programmed over the span of thousands of years to think, feel and act in ways that ensure survival, even if it means by killing the weaker ones. Remember “survival of the fittest”? Yes, Italy is not insane but being utilitarian it just weighed costs against benefits and is trying to allocate scarce resources to the fittest genes at the very psychological level. Younger people are, after all, more fit to survive and it is more probable that they will transfer their genes to the next generation than the old and feeble ones, not to mention mostly unproductive ones. Again, without a succession of genes,

there is no survival possible – another way of ensuring survival is nurturing the competent ones. People in uneducated societies used to feed their wanted children more than undesirable children.

Also Read: How to Stay Mindful and Safe Amid the Coronavirus Outbreak


What is # 3 – Fear is the Biggest Motivator for Most People

Insurance companies don’t really sell insurance, they are in the business of selling fear. Similarly, coronavirus brings the fear of the unknown as discussed above, this fear creates needs but its unpredictability as of now cannot give a good estimate to our mind to control the circumstances for the future, which further aggravates the fear. Why do humans feel more fearful and less happy assuming an equally negative and positive stimulus respectively?

Because in order to survive, our collective unconscious has this rule as a second nature –in order to ensure survival, it is important to perceive an average fear as exaggerated fear and a great happiness as an average happiness. This is also why we overestimate the chances of failure in our risky pursuits like jumping off a building and underestimate the happiness even if we do great in life. Had we been not programmed to fear really high heights, there is little chance our curious nature would have left us alive till date!

Everybody kept on telling save the planet, save the environment, curtail plastic use for a better world, but little do humans pay heed to the “rewards”. The moment we feel we might die of this unseen virus, we panic. Our sympathetic nervous system tries to react in ways that could help us survive. But it doesn’t have enough past data that could have trained it for coronavirus? What would it do then? Respond by instincts – the first/natural and unconscious responses that have become second nature like the ones I will talk in the next points.

Most Interesting: 9 Reasons Thе Coronavirus Shоuld Tеrrifу You


What is # 4 – Change Management

Our brains hate very few things as much as it hates change. The comfort of predictable paths again gives control. Suppose everyday the road to your office changed? How difficult would it be to adjust?

Coronavirus forced us to make changes that are very difficult to accept in the short run, asking people not to pray in congregation, do not touch your face (the parasympathetic controls), do not go out, work from home, socially distance yourself etc.


What is # 5 – Anticipation is Stronger than Reality

Imagining being operated is far more painful than the actual surgery. That is partially why many criminals who are sentenced to death, die before they are hanged or given the due punishment. Imagining the worst future that coronavirus can bring out a completely defensive response from the general public. They forget taking care of others because they don’t see themselves in the picture in the near future. Food will finish, I will be bankrupt – I will die – hoard more – save more – survive.

What is # 6 – Hindsight Bias

After having seen and verified what has happened, people tend to overestimate their ability to predict and foresee the matter at hand. Now people keep saying oh Bill gates knew it, xyz book hinted towards it, it happened as a wrath from God, or as a trial. this happens also because if the human mind cannot relate any incident with a known data, it tends to create connections of its own. If all of these books and people had known exactly what was going
to happen,

Everyone of us wouldn’t have heard about corona for almost the first time and the world would have made certain arrangements. Hints in the air don’t mean anything for the world of unlimited possibilities. It is just like saying the world might face some environmental disaster in the future seeing current deterioration, and there is no wonder if something happens of that sort in the future, people will start feeling “in control” by publishing articles on “Sohaib knew it in 2020!”.

What is # 7 – Retail Therapy and Recency Effect

In order to regain “some” control in life, humans tend to resort to retail therapy. By purchasing toilet paper, sanitizers, disinfectants, masks etc. we feel we are “adequately prepared” for the “unseen”. We tend to remember recent events more than past events, so our actions
and attitudes are governed by the fear of coronavirus rather than the fear of death in general. Statistically, dying of coronavirus is far less probable than dying of anything. But psychologically, death can be caused by so many reasons that we can’t bother panicking
about all of them, however, one HIV, one Cancer, one Coronavirus haunt us the most.Because they seem to be killed in the “present”.

What is # 8 – Domino and Bandwagon Effect

Coronavirus outbreak brought about a chain reaction, coronavirus – everybody starting impulsive hoarding – I am not doing anything – I must be doing something wrong – let me buy sanitizer and masks too.

What is # 9 – Behavioral Economics

Stock market and local businesses including service industry is affected adversely by coronavirus, everybody tends to think we will become bankrupt, we will become poor and all people will suffer. But did you think that all of us are in the same boat? It is highly improbable
that few will have basic provisions and others will let them enjoy for long, it is also highly improbable that you being rich will have a sanitizer and someone poor won’t have it and won’t transfer the virus to you. This is where the “common good” approach comes into place.

What Should be Done

1. Abundant and Infinite Mindset

A scarcity mindset stems from the fear of loss. There is enough on earth to provide for the needs of all of us adequately if we all behave in a safe manner! Going wild and greedy would mean destroying and wasting wealth and at the same time would not allow for any planned and integrated efforts to get through this trial together.

Trust me, hoarding would induce more hoarding, fear begets fear. Mental reservations are useful only to the extent they ensure survival, when we become occupied with fear to an overwhelming level then we
work with a defensive mindset and miss opportunities as well as fail to create opportunities for others. Prepare and save but don’t overdo. If others don’t do well, you will never do well for long either. You win only when others win.

2. United We Stand, Divided We Fall (Yes, you read it right!)

We have been hearing about divided we stand, united we fall – for preventing the spread of coronavirus. But the rule remains the same, united we stand, divided we fall. The idea is to be united by hearts and minds and not by being together physically. If all the nations and people would be on the same page, this unity will mean we all survive and win, otherwise if we all try to solve things on our own, we will cause destruction for everyone.

3. Common Good Approach

What saves us as humans is all the same, corona doesn’t differentiate between a Muslim and a Christian or anyone for that matter. It doesn’t look at past wars or political differences. Looking at it with the same lens is the key to tackling it without panic and fear.

4. Incompetence is the Biggest Virus

Don’t listen to useless tips and tricks to prevent, diagnose or treat coronavirus. Resort to authentic sources only. Governments should pool up the help of relevant experts who should create synergy by working on common platforms rather than completely divergent efforts.

5. Ignorance can’t be treated in the Short Run

Ignorance doesn’t have a vaccine and it is not treatable in the short run. Understand that a portion of people will believe in the rumors, would have distorted views about corona being religious and political propaganda. Instead of challenging such people, it is better to control
their behavior to improve the situation. Controlling by force has repercussions for economy and everyone while controlling by making them change agents is an ideal that is possible with the right efforts. Let them be the leaders in driving campaigns for their communities.
The credibility of a rickshaw driver for instance, in his community, is often more than that of a doctor.

The precautions are simple, only if people believe their actions matter. It is hard to make people believe in something suddenly, clean hands of a laborer never mattered until last week. A Facebook post on his ignorance would not change his behavior.

6. Accepting the Change

Accept that we are in a different frame of work. This is not the same world as was a few months back. Everybody and every nation during this coronavirus outbreak is on a different stage of accepting the change, the sooner we accept new ways of doing things at least until
the situation improves, the better it would be for all of us. Hashtags of flattening the curve mean nothing without common ways of accepting the change. Each and everyone of us needs to behave responsibly and we need to be the change we want to see in others.

Even if others don’t vote, your vote still counts. Don’t fall for this psychological barrier, that if others are enjoying in parks what difference I would create by sitting at home. If you don’t understand
the power of your actions, look at coronavirus’s size. It has made the world look ridiculously naive, not by its size but by its impact. You, I and each one of us together can pull off the best response against the enemy.

7. Flexible Attitude for the Unpredictable


We don’t know what would exactly happen in the near future and when this coronavirus issue will settle, but does that mean inaction? A big NO. Preparing to be flexible allows us to respond to an ever-changing world effectively. Flexible ways of spending, working, caring for the needy ones and effective political planning to cater for the needs of those in dire need will ensure greater success. Let us take this opportunity to test new ways of doing things – the biggest disadvantage of success is that we don’t try newer and different ways.

This forced change should slow us down and make us realize that nothing can be smooth forever. Not every aspect of life can be as fast as the internet is becoming, patience, tolerance, sacrifice, living in difficult times and surviving are also vital skills. On a positive note, you are not alone in it, we all are together. Anyone can come, see and conquer, let us stay at home, plan/predict and conquer.

8. Incentivize People

We might lose many jobs; the stock market is suffering but the political and community leaders must tell people clearly that these days of fasting would mean a celebration is around the corner. The night is always at the darkest before dawn. If we don’t panic and behave
responsibly while forbearing these trials with compassion towards each other, trust me we would make a better and bigger comeback.

The need of the hour is not to fight with each other but to feed each other until our guns go all blazing again. Remember, problems cannot always upgrade themselves at the level where humans can upgrade their creative solutions. The issue today could be a non-issue tomorrow. Remember Ebola? Dengue? TB? We have gone past them and we will go pass coronavirus soon.

9. More Prevention; Less Correction

Follow the directives you all have been reading and listening to on media. Prevent the virus spread, so that no or very few corrections are needed.

10. We Attitude! Borderless Unity

We are one planet, one nation, one humanity, problems are borderless and so are we in this effort to win the battle against coronavirus.
We have weathered many storms together, let’s do it one more time!

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