Americans are flouting social distancing norms due to lower cognitive ability: Study

WION Web Team New Delhi, India Jul 13, 2020, 02.35 PM(IST)

Tourist gather at the beach in Ocean City, Maryland, on July 3, 2020, as the US begins to celebrate Independence Day, during the coronavirus pandemic. Photograph:( AFP )

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Does following social distancing norms have something to do with one’s working memory? A new study claims so!

Does following social distancing norms have something to do with one’s working memory? A new study claims so!

According to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, working memory may have a role to play in the complicity or refusal to follow social distancing norms.

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The author of the study, Weizhen Xie from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke claimed that that the successful identification and containment of the virus is possible if people voluntarily follow the protocols in place.

US not protocol friendly

Taking the United States as the grounds for his study, he noted how ever since the country started reopening, people have flouted social distancing norms, leading to a resurgence of new infections across the country.

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Xie wanted to understand why some people follow the protocol, while many others simply refuse to do so.

Spanning over two studies, the scientists surveyed 850 American residents between March 13 and 25, 2020. This was just when the virus had begun stirring trouble in the US. The research assessed not only one’s compliance to norms, but took into account personality, mood, working memory, and fluid intelligence.

The psychologists discovered that those who had a better working memory capacity were also able to retain the protocols in place, like avoiding touching each other and maintaining distance.

Additionally, fluid intelligence and the ability to process the situation was ranked higher among individuals who followed the social distancing norms. The ones possessing a more functional and stronger working memory also perceived social distancing as a beneficial than harmful.

What is working memory capacity?

Working memory capacity refers to one’s ability to retain all the information at hand, in this case, of the pros and cons of following social distancing. The decision made based on this is dependent on societal benefits and personal costs, the parameters of working memory capacity. The scientist told PsyPost, “the bottom line is that we should not rely on people’s habitual following of a norm because social distancing is not yet adequately established in US society”.

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The scientist further claimed that this is expected to change once wearing mask and socially distancing are normalised in the American society.

The ongoing COVID-19 disease was declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020 by the World Health Organization. At the moment, the virus has infected 188 countries and lockdowns are being imposed and reimposed across the globe intermittently.